• Other Friendship Advice

How to help my son make friends

February 11, 2016 | By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
A mom of a 14-year-old worries that her son lacks the skills to make friends.

QUESTION

Hi,

Out of desperation I typed “How to help my son make friends?” into Google today and landed on this site. I have been reading some of the posts and trust you will be able to provide me with some guidance.

My son (14 years old) is in Grade 9 this year and is an only child. As a family, we are not very sociable people and neither my husband nor myself have lots of friends.

Not sure if this is the reason why my son doesn’t have friends either but it is a huge concern to us as parents. Although he is outspoken, well-accepted and “understood” by adults, it seems as if children his own age find him difficult to relate to, resulting in him not really having friends.

It does not seem to bother him too much at this stage as he prefers to be on his own and has not complained about it to us yet. But we are afraid that he lacks the “social skills” to be able to make friends of his own age.

Recently, he commented that “he does not have a lot of contacts on his phone” (in relation to other teens) and that “he is not on his phone as much as some of the people he knows.” Although this is not a concern to us as parents (we don’t think it is in healthy anyway to be spending most of his time on your phone), we are concerned that maybe we have not provided an effective platform for him to build friendships?

How do we help him now? Do we get involved? Do we leave it and let him make his own friends?

Thank you for your time.
Regards, Mom of an “Only”

ANSWER

Hi Mom of an “Only,”

When I read your letter, I wondered what made you today, out of desperation, want to seek help for your son. Did something recently happen that precipitated your concern?

Different individuals need varying numbers of friends and acquaintances to feel satisfied. In general, but now always, introverts prefer a fewer but closer number of friends while extroverts are energized by a wider variety of friends with varying levels of intimacy.

You’re right to be concerned about insuring he has the skills needed to succeed not just socially, but in college and in his future family and career. Good social and communication skills make personal and professional relationships much smoother.

For your son, having no friends and having few friends are different type concerns. If he doesn’t have any friends, sits alone at lunch and doesn’t participate in any extracurricular activities, he probably lacks the skills or confidence in the skills he has to use them.  If he agrees that this is the case, encouraging him to join clubs, sports or volunteering where he has the opportunity to gain these skills would be a good first step. If your son has one or more friends, helping him improve on the skills he already has will help him develop confidence.

Your first step is to talk to him to find out his thoughts about his social life. Do this without expressing judgment or minimizing his concerns. Ask for his thoughts on how his social life would look ideally and what he thinks might be helpful in achieving those goals. His reactions will tell you how to proceed. If he expresses depression or despair, you might consider whether several counseling sessions might be useful to help him overcome obstacles toward achieving his goals.

Signed, Amy Feld


*Amy Feld, PhD, MSW has trained and worked as a child psychologist.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this or any other post is intended to substitute for medical, psychiatric or clinical diagnosis/treatment. Rather, all posts are written as the type of advice that one friend might give to another.

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Category: Child and adolescent friendships, OTHER ADVICE

Comments (4)

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  1. Dionne says:

    If it seems serious enough, you might consider therapy. It’s always possible he has mild Asperger’s or something along those lines that prevents him from being able to read social cues very well.

    Or encourage him to join some group, any group, whether at school or something in the community. See what’s available and ask him if anything stands out at him. He might also be able to volunteer somewhere. Smaller groups are a great place for friendships to develop.

    You might want to also talk to his teachers, who see him in a large group of kids daily and will know how much of an “outlier” he really is compared with the others.

    I think it’s not uncommon for only children to relate to adults better and be used to entertaining themselves. But yeah, when it’s “no” friends rather than “not many” friends, I agree that it’s something to work on. Good luck!

    • Jared says:

      I’ve always found “Not many friends” was a euphemism for “none.” Or, if I’m being really generous, “no friends you see on a usual basis.” When I was a kid, I would cover my lack of friendships in conversation by mentioning something I had done with an acquaintance even if it was over a year ago. I acted like it was just a couple weekends ago to save face.

  2. Sandra says:

    There was a time when I shared your worries. We all want our children to be liked and appreciated — and we want them to have good friends. My son, also an only child, was often the odd man out until other kids and teachers at school discovered he was a computer wizard. In junior high he became the cool geek — people sought out his computer skills, and he made friends with other smart kids. It also helped that he was in a small Catholic school where individuals were allowed to shine and were not shunned if they were different.

    Like your son, my son wasn’t the type of guy who needed to be popular, and he knew he wasn’t a social butterfly. Later, he branched out more naturally in college when he became more sure of himself. He is now married to a bright young woman and they have a great social life. (Both are only children.)

    My son wasn’t interested in sports — nor was his father, who was always a creative man. Our son was not good at sports — he tried soccer and a couple of others — so we never forced the issue. My husband still doesn’t care much for sports. He’d rather go to a movie than watch the SuperBowl, which is exactly what we did. Sports might be the answer for some people, but not for everyone. Our family blossomed without them.

  3. Jared says:

    To be honest, this letter reminded me of myself. I’ll type this fast because I have to get to work.

    In school, I was often favored by adults. Teachers loved me. My academic work usually stood out in class, and I was well-behaved. On the other hand, my peers were apathetic about me. I was NEVER invited to a party, but if I went to a school dance my peers would make small talk and then move on to their real friends. I’ve always felt that I’ve had tons of acquaintances but no friends.

    My first and biggest suggestion would be this–get your son into a sport! When I was a kid, I told my parents I didn’t like sports because my father was always judgmental about my skills, and I didn’t want him to see me strike-out in baseball. He should have told me to practice since no one is good at first. It took me 20 years to realize this simple truth that an adult SHOULD have told me. I needed to practice, practice, practice!

    Most guys relate to each other based on being on the same sports team. They judge each other based on their physical strength and skill in sports. I thought this would go away as an adult, but it does not. Men always want to talk about sports and even invite each other to games and/or to play flag football together,etc.

    Men will never say, “Do you want to be friends?” Instead, they’ll say, “Want to watch the game?” or “Want to play basketball?” This is guy code for how friendships initiate among men.

    I didn’t know this as a kid because, except for my father who was distant, I was around women 24/7. None of them knew how to play sports and none of them could help me relate to other men. I ALWAYS wanted to be one of the guys, but I didn’t play sports because I was scared to look stupid for not knowing the rules.

    I can’t tell you how detrimental it is to a boy/man’s social life, for him not to partake or show interest in sports. It automatically rules out most male friendships. I’ve had men give me disgusted looks when I say I have no interest in the Super Bowl or World Series.

    If your son doesn’t like team sports, he could try wrestling, boxing, mma or traditional martial arts. These are all great avenues to be healthy and make friends. Good luck!

    Also, as an FYI, I remember telling my parents that I didn’t care I had no friends. For me, it was a front. I knew it was strange. I knew it was wrong. I just didn’t want my own parents to think poorly of me for not being able to make friends. It’s hard when something that seems natural to others doesn’t work for you, and you don’t know why.

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