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Background:

I am a 16 year old in high school and due to various opportunities (namely being homeschooled) I have been able to take many courses at a local college. Until recently I have been taking one class per semester which means that I pop up for class and effectively disappear afterwards which reduces my contact with other students. I look much older than I am and have at times been mistaken for a 20 year old student.

Problem

Recently I began an almost full time load and have been having a little bit more interaction with students. I am not a particularly social person and am completely fine with the fact that I have zero friends and acquaintances but recently some of the students have been becoming a little too friendly (for my liking. Perfectly normal college student behavior though). I can handle the "hello how's life" style of comments/questions but a few examples of what is really awkward for me in particular are:

  • A few girls have come up to me and (I believe genuinely) asked me out.

  • I have been invited to join study groups of various sorts which are essentially social opportunities while studying

  • I have been invited to parties at students's houses and dorm rooms

In all three of these cases I have had no interest whatsoever in participating (along with my parents most definitely not letting me go) but the other student had no way of possibly knowing that I wasn't the average student and in the end they all turned away awkwardly and disappointed. I would like some suggestions about both these specific situations and other similar situations as to how to alert them of these facts without appearing harsh or angry and prevent any future communications in class from being awkward.

To clarify, I enjoy talking to these people and do not want to lose them as friends or make our relationship awkward while also very strongly communicating the fact that I do not have all of the freedoms of a college student.

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    This: "I have had no interest whatsoever in participating" seems to contradict this: 'I enjoy talking to these people and do not want to lose them as friends'. Could you specify whether you want to but are unable, or simply don't want to? – Jesse Jan 17 '18 at 4:01
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    have you considered outright telling them your age? – Alex Robinson Jan 17 '18 at 8:54
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    @Jesse I simply don't do things like that (partly because I can't) but I still want to be friendly in class or while waiting for class – anonymous Jan 17 '18 at 12:46
  • @Cursed I do when they come up and talk to me but no, I typically do not give out my age unless necessary – anonymous Jan 17 '18 at 12:47
  • @Cursed Many of these people don't "know" me besides idle chit-chat in the halls and they wish to get to know me better by doing the above activities which is what many college students do to get to know people! I have tried it but it comes across as harsh which is not the way I want to treat people who have been building up confidence all day to ask me out. – anonymous Jan 17 '18 at 12:59
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One of the hardest things about this is people's tendency to assume, lacking any other evidence, that the people they encounter in a situation (such as college) are of a similar age/background/what have you - they assume that you "fit" in the broadest sense.

So naturally, their first instinct is going to be to assume you're one of them, age wise and life-situation wise. That's perfectly understandable - I'd certainly not expect a 16 year old to be at my university, when I was attending. At that age, there's not a lot physically that sets you apart, so that's not an easy way for them to tell at first glance.

Honestly, I think honesty might be the best policy here. A simple, "thanks for inviting me, but I'm not able to go" might suffice. Or you can mention "hey, that wouldn't work because I am 16 and thus underage, but thanks for thinking of me". Or things like that. Work it in as naturally as you can - chances are they just haven't considered the possibility. They might react with some shock because, well, like you mentioned, it is unusual, but once the novelty wears off, I suspect they'll just go back to treating you like you're one of them, but now they have a better idea of where your boundaries are, so to speak.

  • Very good advice @Ash. If OP doesn't tell them, how are they to know his unique situation? Sharing that information frankly and simply can only help their mutual understanding. So I appreciate and upvote! – English Student Jan 17 '18 at 11:54
  • Thanks for the advice! I had been coming across as a little harsh and I believe this might help make the startling realization easier on people. – anonymous Jan 17 '18 at 12:54
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    +1 this is the answer I was about to write! I was in college courses starting at 15, and while I never advertised my age, this worked well with people I was friendly with. The important part is the "thanks" :) – Em C Jan 17 '18 at 12:55
  • Agreed. Politely declining does not mean you owe an explanation. But a warm(-ish) "Thank you" and a smile is a sign of encouragement. Someday, you might find a good situation and reason to go. If you are asked for details you do not want to provide, smile enigmatically and say nothing. If that does not stop the questioning, turn away and reconsider if this is a person you want to be around; if yes, then turn back. – Lurker Larry Jan 18 '18 at 18:22
  • I agree with this answer, I've been in college classes since I was 16 and this is generally what I would say. And I agree with Em C, the most important part is to smile, be friendly and say thanks. – Nadeshka May 3 at 21:44
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I started taking college courses at 15 while still in high school, so I can share what worked for me. First, I'll state some assumptions:

  • You currently can't participate in these activities because of age and parental restrictions.

  • You want to maintain good relations.

  • You might enroll full-time later, by which time you'll be older and the parental restrictions might differ. (In particular, you might then live in a dorm rather than in your parents' house.)

  • If you enroll full-time later, some of the people you're meeting now might still be around and be your future classmates.

Given those considerations, you don't want to just brush them off with "I can't"; enough "I can't"s will deter them from asking in the future, but in the future your situation will be different. Further, you're concerned about giving a negative impression.

Instead, what worked for me was to explain briefly and propose alternatives. In my case that was something like this:

Ooh, I'd love to come to your (dorm) party, but I actually live with my parents, not on campus, so I can't go. But do you want to grab a snack and hang out after class?

One of the age restrictions people encounter in college is drinking alcohol, but there are ways to still socialize. Age isn't the only reason that some people don't drink, so -- assuming the venue doesn't require proof of age to enter at all -- you can still socialize with a soft drink while your friends are drinking beer. I did a lot of that in college. (I didn't reach legal drinking age before graduating; most of my peers were older.)

  • I like some of your points but all of your assumptions are correct except for one. My parents do not like me even TALKING to these students (as if they are suspicious of me or something) and I very highly doubt that I would be allowed to even go get a snack or do an activity outside of class with these students right now. I DO like the point you made that not many others have hit upon, I may in the future be able to do these things and definitely don't want to close any doors. – anonymous Jan 18 '18 at 0:43
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    @anonymous They are your peers and only 2-4 years different... to not even talk to them is quite extreme. Perhaps you should consider working a solution with your parents instead – Jesse Jan 18 '18 at 0:45
  • @Jesse I would love to but I am very socially awkward and based on past experiences I don't feel that it is an option. I am very awkward around my parents and not comfortable asking them about it. I don't have any friends my age for this same reason. – anonymous Jan 18 '18 at 0:49
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    +1 btw for suggesting to be more open, and then do activities OP is comfortable with rather than just blanket rejecting any potential activity. Much better method if you are trying to make friends. (I'm ignoring any overbearing parent issues as that isn't what the question was about) – Jesse Jan 18 '18 at 0:51

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