Sitting alone at lunch: the saddest girls I know

The saddest girls I know are worried every morning before they go to school. Will anybody greet me at my locker? Will anyone pick me for the project? Most importantly, will I have anyone to sit with at lunch? It breaks my heart to hear girls talk about sitting alone at lunch each day.

Ellie, 17, finally stood up to the Queen Bee in her friend group, resulting in the whole group ditching her. The cliques at her school are tight, so no table has invited her to sit with them at lunch. She told me through her tears that she sits alone; always hoping someone will notice and befriend her.

Grace, 13, is THE sweetest, kindest, and most nonjudgmental person I have ever met. So of course she’s had a tough time fitting the mold at her middle school. When girls refuse to play by the drama rules, they are out of the loop. Grace eats her lunch alone most days in the library.

Maria, 11, was adopted from Peru at one year of age, and has always felt different because of the color of her skin. She is painfully shy and quiet, and thus overlooked by her peers. Even if she is allowed to sit at a table of girls, they ignore her and act as if she’s not there. So Maria prefers to eat alone, oftentimes in her classroom where she helps out her teacher.

I could go on and on with similar stories of kids who sit alone at lunch. I understand why they feel invisible, hurt, rejected, sad, and alone. Many of them have deduced that they are not good enough, pretty enough, weird, awkward, needy, and that they will never fit the mold. Often they are left in despair, feeling like things will never get better. These girls are vulnerable to choosing unhealthy ways to cope with their pain, sometimes choosing cutting or developing suicidal thoughts. They will carry these unhealthy and untrue decisions about themselves with them to college and beyond if they don’t get the help to process through their experiences.

Teachers and recess monitors need to be on the lookout for these girls. I know some schools that have created a “buddy bench” on the playground where anyone can sit when they feel alone. Other students who notice that kid know to go over and include them in their game. Schools need to put more time and energy into social-emotional intelligence learning so that the kids take more responsibility for creating a caring community at school. Students can learn to become more sensitive to everyone’s needs, and to be sure that everybody feels included.

No child should have to endure being isolated and invisible at school. In particular, no one should have to sit alone at lunch, which is the loneliest place I know.

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