A teen with a "bad" reputation, who has a history of running away and sex work, wants to turn a new leaf and asks how how he can be seen differently by his peers.
A teen writes to the forum:
"I start school Monday. And I'm a little worried. I have always been the bad kid here. I've been in and out of foster care and also I've been in trouble for running away and for...playing around with other boys...and taking trades or lunch money for it. That's also how I made money when I ran.
I was recently in a care home and while there they tested me and said I am dyslexic. They started trying to teach me to read and write better. I am living with my grandparents right now and they have some help at school for me now this year."
My problem is that I really want this to work. I don't want to go back into foster care or to the group home but the kids in my school know me by my old rep and that's not who or what I want to be anymore.
I'm not really sure what to do. If I ignore everyone, I'm not going to have any friends. But I've never related to anyone, like in a non-sexual way, in a long time. And even before that I was the kid skipping class and breaking windows. So I have no idea how to make real friends.
How do I get them to see me differently?"
Thanks so much for writing and congratulations on making some positive changes. It sounds like you have had some really tough times. But rest assured, you aren't the only teen who has had these experiences and made some lasting changes.
Unfortunately, it can be really hard to change people's opinions of you once they are formed and as you probably know, people can be pretty judgmental, especially when it comes to sexuality.
It is great that you have had your learning issues identified, but it sounds like you would also really benefit from some supportive counseling or a social skills group. If you have a social worker or guidance counselor that you work with, these are things you might want to mention.
You might also want to be in touch with closest GLBT community center in your area. Gay community centers often have programs for teens. Explain your situation and ask if they have any advice or local resources that could help you.
A lot of GLBT teens who have been involved in transactional sex (trading sex for money or housing, or food), find that it most helpful to talk to people who understand where they have been and aren't going to be judgmental.
That being said, it is obviously also important that you feel safe and welcome at school and it is understandable that you want your peers to view you differently. But changing your reputation can be tough. Here are some ways to work on helping people see you for more than your past actions:
- Think about how you want people to see you and remind yourself of this when you need to make a decision about how to act.
- Stick to it! Everyone backslides into behavior patterns they are trying to change sometimes, but the more you act like the person you want people to see you as, the better.
- Realize that it might take time for people to change their opinions. Be patient. If people have seen you act a certain way for a long time, it will also take time for them to see how you have changed.
Here are some tips on changing your reputation from About's guide to Teen Advice:
"Make a promise to strengthen your good points and eliminate (or at least tame) your bad ones. Easier said than done for sure. Start easy by smiling at people who catch your eye in the hallway. Wave at friends from across the hall. Try to say "hi" to one new person everyday. Change your study habits. Being a better student can help your confidence and positively influence how others see you. Join a school club, committee or team. Get to know people who share your interests. Own up to any truths about your "bad rep" and tell people you have really changed and just want a chance to prove it. Then really prove it!"
It sounds like you have gone through an awful lot. But with the proper support, it also sounds like you will be able to make the changes that you want to see.