Every parent wants his or her teenager to be well-liked. Even if your particular teen isn’t what you would classify as “popular,” having a few good friends makes the adolescent years easier, more fun, and more memorable. Whether you’ve just moved to a new city or your teenager has never made friends easily, loneliness is hard on them and also on you. It’s painful to see your child so unhappy, and you might not be able to help wondering what it is that is making it hard for your teen to find a friend to spend time with. If your teen is lonely, here are some tips on pinpointing the problem and getting him or her involved with some peers to reduce loneliness.
Simple Loneliness, or Something More Serious?
If your family has recently moved or if your teen has switched schools or finished up with a sports season, these are all potential recipes for loneliness. While younger children might just need a little encouragement to make new friends, teens are often a bit worried that they will look awkward, desperate, or, maybe worst of all, “weird” if they start approaching people out of the blue. Although loneliness after a move can be sad and difficult, it doesn’t usually indicate a major problem unless it’s causing very low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety.
Loneliness can sometimes be an indication of a larger problem at hand.
- Social Anxiety – Kids and teens with social anxiety can have a hard time approaching people even after they’ve known them for a long time.
- Autism – Those on the autism spectrum, particularly those with Asperger’s syndrome, can have trouble reading social cues, which can lead to loneliness.
- Mental Health Disorders – Teens with mental health disorders like depression or anxiety can also suffer from loneliness.
If your teen has always had trouble making friends or is suddenly lonely after losing a group of friends, this can be worth investigating to see if there is a deeper or more serious problem. There will be tips later on for dealing with this type of situation.
Introvert or Extrovert?
Not all teens who seem lonely are actually sad about not having a lot of friends. If you are an extrovert, you might be confused by your teen if he or she is an introvert.
- An extrovert is someone who is energized by spending time with others.
- An introvert is someone who is energized by spending time alone.
Your introverted teen will want to have friends, but many introverts are happy with just one or two close friends. They might not need to spend time with their friends every day, and they might not be interested in making more friends.
No matter where your teen falls on the spectrum of introvert to extrovert, it’s important that you take your cues from your child. In some cases, a parent might believe that their teen is lonely and push them to make more friends or to spend more time with the ones that they already have, but the teen in question might be perfectly happy with the status quo. Before you try to support your lonely teen, be sure that he or she is really lonely and not just content being alone much of the time.
Investigate Opportunities for Friendships
If you’ve moved recently or your teen goes to a small high school, the problem might be that he or she really doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to make new friends. Even in a larger high school, large class sizes can make a slightly shy teenager retreat and find it hard to reach out. If your teen is lonely, encourage him or her to find a smaller group to connect with.
This might be a class that is geared toward a particular interest or an extracurricular activity. If your teen joins a sport, the yearbook staff, or the drama club, he or she will be welcomed into the group. Also, the shared interest will give plenty of opportunity for getting together and making conversation.
Outside of school, your teen might enjoy volunteering or getting involved in some type of community activity. For example, if your adolescent likes to help with yard work, he or she might like working in a community garden. A teen who likes young children might want to volunteer in a church nursery. Someone who loves animals can find joy volunteering at an animal shelter. These types of opportunities will keep your teen busy and allow him or her to meet new people, including other teenagers who have similar interests.
Work on Social Skills
If you have noticed that your teen is lacking a bit when it comes to making conversations, not monopolizing a discussion, or not knowing what is appropriate to say or do, some practice on social skills might seem like a good idea, but you need to tread carefully. Rather than nag your teen about interrupting or having poor table manners, try a simple, open conversation. Let him or her know that you’d like to help, but don’t get too hung up on it; your teen might not be open to your advice. You can try giving pointers for specific information, rather than generic advice.
For example, your child might feel awkward offering a guest a drink or not know what to do when inviting someone over. Encourage him or her to make a plan ahead of time for activities that they might enjoy with their guest. See if they want to have some easy-to-prepare snacks and beverages on hand for when friends come over. Learning these types of social skills can go far in alleviating awkwardness and also in preparing your teen for adult life.
Get More Help If Needed
Sometimes, loneliness is a symptom of a larger problem. Your teen might have social anxiety or Asperger’s syndrome. A teen who suddenly drops all of his or her friends might be going through depression or a drug or alcohol problem. These are all possibilities to look into if your teen is lonely and the advice above doesn’t seem to help. Check in with his or her family doctor, then make an appointment with a mental health specialist if warranted.
It’s never easy on a parent when their child is unhappy. Try to find out whether your lonely teen needs help meeting people, learning social skills, or dealing with a larger problem, and in time, you should begin to see some improvement in your teen’s social life and demeanor.