What You Need To Remember When You Feel Like The New Kid

Photo: Getty Images via Canva
new kid eating lunch alone

By Howard Rudnick

The day my parents told me that we were moving to Florida was probably the worst day of my life (at that time).

How could my parents uproot everything I knew and pack up the only home I’ve known and 1,300 miles away from my comfort zone, nonetheless move right before I started the 8th grade? What drugs were they on that they thought was a good idea?

I was flabbergasted and could not believe the cruel twist of fate.

Up until that point, I had only ever been the new kid a handful of times (usually because I would change summer camps every few years), but when you’re younger kids are not as cruel (this was also before social media was around and the most important thing was whether your parents allowed you to have an AIM account and your popularity depended on what rare Pokémon cards you had).

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However, the summer before this debacle took place, I begged and implored my parents to send me to sleep away camp like my cousin who had gone the year before. I wanted independence, I wanted to know what life was like away from them.

At 12 years old, I think my parents could tell how much I wanted to get away from them and have my own life experiences separate from them.

Here’s the thing about being the new kid at a summer camp, a sleepaway camp specifically: you can’t go running home at 4 p.m. after the day ends. At a minimum you’re stuck there for the two weeks your parents paid for.

I did not fully understand or comprehend what fresh hell I was stepping into when I got to sleepaway camp. Did I mention I was 12 years old and everyone was going through various stages of puberty? That made for quite an interesting summer.

As the new kid (literally, I was the new kid because I was the only new kid who came for the new session), it was me and 12 strangers and 2 counselors who did their best to make us feel better about ourselves on a daily basis. With girls, they’re catty and will insult you behind your back, whereas boys will straight up roast you in front of everyone.

What made matters worse, all of these kids had preexisting relationships with one another and here I came timidly forcing myself into their privileged ecosystem.

For five weeks, I did my best to avoid letting the glaring critiques, insults, and roughhousing I endured, and the mental warfare the girls waged on us to survive my first summer at sleepaway.

While there were no pranks as epic as the ones seen in "The Parent Trap," pranks do occur. Pantsing, finger in the bucket of water, people stealing your clothing, embarrassing moments, the whole lot.

Regardless of that, I managed to leave my first summer as a sleepaway camper and took those memories and experiences and attempted to use them to grow as a person (or as best as I could at 12 years old).

When my family and I arrived in Florida for good, the thought of “I’m going to be the new kid” played over and over in my head and formed a giant-sized pit in my stomach. Every preconceived notion I had of being the new kid from television and movies rushed into my head and truly thought my life was over.

Moving to a new school in a new area in the 8th grade at peak pubescence was my worst nightmare. I had to start all over again. Here’s the kicker: I got to be the new kid all over again the next year when I started high school.

Little did I know how many times I would be the “new kid” over the course of my life.

Remember earlier how I talked about the kids at sleepaway camp all having pre-existing relationships? Where I went to school, those pre-existing relationships were on full display, and went back to birth for many of them. Their parents all gave birth in the same hospital, lived next door to each other.

These kids were bonded for life. Here comes little old awkward me trying to make friends.

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Entering a new arena, as I did on my first day of 8th grade, was nerve-racking. There were a thousand thoughts flying through my head. If you’ve seen the movie "Mean Girls," the scene when Cady walks through the gym after the huge fight in the school and everyone stares at her, well, that is exactly how I felt.

All eyes were on me. Mortifying and nausea-inducing all in one fell swoop.

The teacher tries to be nice and introduces you, but being that it was the first day, there are so many other things that the teacher needs to do than to make sure the new kid feels comfortable.

She threw me to the wolves. Were some kids nice, sure, but most of them didn’t give me the time of day.

It took me a while to figure out the social hierarchy at my middle school, and understand the different groups, who was considered cool, and who was considered uncool. At 13 years old, that is all you’re concerned about.

It also didn’t help that I did not play sports or have any athletic ability, so joining a sports team was already out the window.

Eventually, a rag-tag group of individuals took me in and adopted me as their friend.

Entering high school for me was both a reprieve but also a chance to do over being the “new kid.” Kids in high school are just as cruel, and this was the peak MySpace era, going into the Facebook era. We lived and breathed by our Top 8. I also was subjected my freshmen year to the nastiest group of human beings I had ever encountered: cheerleaders.

My locker freshman year was on the third row all the way on the top and I had 5 cheerleaders' lockers under and adjacent to me. They were super cliquey, spoke only in Spanish, and would often tape my locker shut, stick gum on it, hog the space, and generally torment me for the sole purpose of entertaining themselves.

Guess who had the last laugh when they all got scabies later on in the last year and everyone laughed at them. Karma really is a b****, isn’t it?

Being the new kid in high school can be minimized because everyone is technically new, but the feelings of awkwardness, feeling out of place and the rest of the thousand emotions that rush through your mind take hold and it’s up to you to make sure you push them aside. Luckily the “new kid” stigma wears off and the rudeness and comments transition into bullying. Splendid!

Today, as I wrote these words, I wear my “new kid” title as a badge of honor.

It’s given me a lot of perspective on life and how to deal with various people from all walks of life. It’s also allowed me to have these life lessons to pass on to my future kids about how awful kids can be.

They’re all battling their own insecurities and issues that are going on at home. The teasing, the name calling, and other forms of harassment arise from what’s manifested from their own problems.

If you're ever feeling like the "new kid" remember that you can use that to your advantage. I may not have had that understanding back then, but I certainly do now.

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Howard Rudnick is a former contributing author to Unwritten and podcast host of Rudnick Rants.

This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.