We see it in the classroom, we see it on the playground, we see it in the street, at the supermarket within a family, on school buses, wherever a group of children gather. There is always a child that seems ignored, as if he/she did not belong. Their facial expression is usually neutral, their eyes downcast and furtive, their body language signals boredom and the physical distance is greater than normal at their age. They are often ridiculed and verbally abused by their peers, if not beaten by stronger boys or girls. Yet, we, as a society, do not pay much attention to these outcasts, unless the teacher or the parent is exceptionally attentive and caring.
The cause may be a mental illness, such autism, or they may have a history of neglect and abuse, especially sexual by a member of the family. When subjected to stress, they may well snap and become aggressive, the only way for them to express pent-up emotion. Once they are adults, it is almost impossible to convert them into good, productive citizens. The only exceptions are due to some unusual talent such as painting, writing, or playing an instrument, an activity which brings them the attention they crave. The use and abuse of drugs is also common as teens and grown-ups. It allows them to escape their unpleasant reality and enter a world of permanent pleasure. I wonder if the British singer Winehouse was one of these children.
Social interaction is bred into our genes by evolution; we wouldn't have survived as a race otherwise. It is thus extremely important for teachers and parents to observe these cases very carefully, as there are some interventions available. There is of course no guarantee of success if the emotional damage is of such intensity that no amount of love will restore their faith in human beings. But in most cases, care and love are certainly essential tools to help them become well-balanced adults; we must be quite genuine when dealing with them as they can detect a phony a mile away. It takes a lot of time and patience, a recipe similar to that employed with abused animals. The eventual results will be sufficient reward.
One caveat, however, before we embark on saving these children and teens from emotional failure. Not all of them suffer from emotional distress; some youngsters are naturally withdrawn, unwilling to mingle with the crowd. They prefer to observe and take notes as they are almost always highly intelligent. They may not be their peers' favorite companions in social activities or in team sports, but they seem satisfied with few friends who share their distaste for parties and loud music. One can easily observe them forming small, quiet groups in school halls and their facial expressions are often quite animated. These kids are not in need of intervention.
Withdrawn kids may sometimes attempt suicide, or carry out violent actions. It is our responsibility as a modern society to detect their needs in time and work together to help them achieve a proper self-esteem and the ability and skills that proper human interaction demands.