If you subscribe to Choices, then you know that we’re all about celebrating differences and opening teens up to a wider world through our Different Like You series. (If you’re not familiar with it, check out September’s column here: Jessica is an Immigrant.)
That’s why we’re thrilled to announce Teenbeing’s new partnership with Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It, a site dedicated to exploring the power of judgment—how and why we all judge each other, what that judgment does to us, and how we can overcome it. Each Wednesday (starting today), we’ll link you to an amazing Teen Flaunt, which is an original first-person essay written by a real teen, chronicling what makes him or her unique. We ask that you share these stories with your sons, daughters or students—and encourage them to think about what their own versions would say.
This week’s incredible Flaunt is written by Sophia, 14, a deaf high school freshman in Colorado who believes it’s important to “be confident in your disability.” (That’s her above!) Before you head on over to DHIFI, though, take a few minutes to read our Q&A with Meg Zucker, the site’s beyond-amazing founder, who will help you understand her own personal journey—and the site’s mission.
You were born with ectrodactyly, a genetic condition where you have just one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot. What were your teen years like for you?
My teen years were sort of mixed. On one hand, because I am extremely outgoing, I had tons of friends and involved myself in everything from marching band to cheerleading to chorus. However, if you see pictures of me at the time, I actually was hiding my hands a lot in photos. I was trying so hard to assimilate.
You’ve endured a lifetime of ignorant comments and awkward looks. What was the one moment, though, when you felt most judged?
When I moved from New York to New Jersey, the person at the DMV insisted that I retake the entire driving test in order to receive a New Jersey state license, despite my perfect driving record. He pointed to my hands as the explanation. My husband, whose record was good but not as perfect, did not have to take a test.
What do you wish you could say to that judgmental person now?
Guess what? My driving record remains perfect!
Is there anything people have assumed you couldn’t do, because of your condition?
People ask me if they can sign my credit card receipt for me. People wonder how I can write, drive, and even type. But I actually have been told I type faster than the majority. Practice makes perfect, 10 fingers or not!
You have two children who were also born with your condition. How are you preparing them for that same lifetime of judgment?
They are very involved with my website, as is our daughter who doesn’t have a blatant physical difference—but she was adopted, so that is her own difference. Mostly, I show my kids that you cannot control what others think of you, no matter how hard you try. I also teach them that people who are happy with themselves are never mean to others. Finally, I tell them to be open to curiosity and people who ask questions. If we were in their shoes, we would want to know more too!
What’s your best advice for parents and teachers when it comes to helping kids develop a thicker skin—and compassion for others?
I often suggest that kids—whether born different or not—role-play with their parents. In other words, parents can behave like the bully, and have the kid be that other kid or bully. They can then appreciate how their reactions are impacting the experience. For kids who are not born with any blatant difference, I often encourage parents to pick anything about their child—even hair color, for example—and start to role play so that “thing” becomes the subject of scrutiny. It helps them immediately understand how it feels to be the object of judgment.
What kind of judgments might I be making daily—that I don’t even realize?
Great question! I suppose that just because someone looks blatantly different or seemingly has some type of physical challenge, one can immediately think we always are looking for someone to jump to our aide. Even with the best of intentions, it can impact the other person’s ego and independence. I always recommend just taking a moment to wait and see if the person is struggling or looking around for help. Sometimes it pays to pause for a moment and not rush to intervene!