Published On: Wed, Nov 1st, 2023

Can I help my teen son make friends?

Can I help my teen son make friends?
Can I help my teen son make friends?


Q: How do you help a teen boy make friends? It kills me, but I feel as if my son, who is a sophomore in high school, doesn’t have a good group like he did when he was younger. I sort of blame the pandemic, because they all lost some good years of learning how to be social with peers. I know he’s not happy about it, but he just seems stuck. When I ask other friends, they say the same things (especially those with sons). What advice do you have?

A: My middle child was headed into high school after two years at home because of the pandemic. Needless to say, she felt pretty detached from friends and social groups, and the activities she loved most (art and reading) were mostly solitary. I saw the signs pretty clearly, and we began having painful and consistent meetings focused on the need for her to join groups and move her body.

Under much duress, she agreed to join ultimate Frisbee. The terms were: She had to join, stay in it for at least six to eight weeks, and give her sort-of best. She was deeply unhappy about it, and I had to not take her eye rolls, sighs, complaints and outright rudeness personally. To her credit, she did it, and, before you think this is a story about how she fell in love with ultimate, she promptly quit as soon as she could. Did she even develop long-lasting friendships with anyone on the team? Nope.

So what was the win here?

She had a destination, a goal, a group of people to be accountable to and some awesome coaches, and she moved her body. We got another friend to join the team with her. She kept her word and had to be very brave. She fought through serious negative thoughts and self-doubt, and, although no major friendships were made, she began to recognize people in the hallways of a huge school. Other kids said hi, and she said hi back. She was essentially strengthening the muscles needed to make friends.

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Here is what I want to highlight: Having her join something was not one conversation, and the process wasn’t filled with ease, gratitude and joy. I was riddled with self-doubt and exhaustion. (Am I pushing too hard? Should I leave her alone?) I had hoped she would see the value of joining a group, but she never really did. She may admit now that it was the right thing to do, but she certainly wasn’t going to admit it then. Every practice and match had one essential question attached to it: Were we doing the right thing?

At the core of parenting is that it’s all well and good to think about things, and fret about things, and begin to talk to people and experts about things. But, at some point, you have to act. You have to do something different, so your child does something different, too. You say he doesn’t have a “good group” of friends. Does this mean he has a group? If this is the case, do anything possible to bring them together. If this means hosting gaming sessions filled with junk food, taking them to a concert or sporting event, driving them to the movies or mall, do it. Do anything that puts the friends together, doing something they like. Not what you think is worthy, but something they like. Yes, you may be out some money, time or convenience (or all three), but to get something different, you have to do something different.

Commit yourself to not taking your child’s bad attitude personally or as evidence that you should give up. Don’t expect your son to love this interference. Of course, at a certain point, your pushing may become detrimental to your relationship, but if you stay determined to figure it out together, you’ll get there. And remember: Depending on your culture, you may include family, religious groups, friends from other schools or neighborhood friends. Cast a wide net as you problem-solve with your son, and be ready for the shrugs and reticence. It’s hard for him to know this, but his future self may thank you for the extra help during this slump.

Finally, check for depression. You can talk to his pediatrician about having him undergo a screening, and don’t be afraid to broach the topic with your son. The professionals aren’t kidding when they say there is a major mental health crisis in young adults today thanks to the pandemic, so let your son know that there is nothing to be ashamed of if he feels as if he has lost interest in things that previously brought him happiness, friendship being one of them. And let him know that, although it is typical and hard, it is also treatable with therapy and, if needed, medication.

Whatever you do, don’t wait for him to “unstick” himself; he needs support. Get your courage up, have some meetings with him and stick in there! Good luck.


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