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How To Help A Teen Who Has Very Few Friends & Is Suffering With Loneliness

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teenage boy with headphones, looking at a phone

Your child has struggled with friendships over the years, but now that the teenage years are here, the social isolation seems even worse.

You watch as they sulk around the house because there’s no one to hang out with, confide in, share their secrets, or laugh with. Watching your teen stay on the outside of the social bubble, trailing behind other kids during social gatherings, can be utterly heartbreaking.

Friendships are critical to a person’s mental health. In addition to companionship and entertainment, healthy friendships are the foundation for building independence.  

Around puberty, some kids develop social anxiety disorder — excessive worrying about what other people think of them. They often avoid social situations in which they fear they might embarrass themselves. 

A teen that is isolating from peers is different from one who is being bullied. With a rising number of young adults being diagnosed with mental health disorders, it is vital that parents are aware of the warning signs of mental health issues as their children mature. 

If your teen’s isolation and withdrawal from friends and social activities is a sudden change in behavior, it may be a sign of depression. If you are concerned, seek out an evaluation by a mental health professional. Social skills building will not work if depression is not treated first. 

If you see your teen struggling to make friends or getting rejected by other kids, don’t hang back. There’s a lot you can do to help your teen build and practice the skills to make one or two really close friends. And that’s all anybody really needs.

RELATED: What To Do When Your Shy Kid Seems Even More Withdrawn Than Usual

Here are nine ways to help your teen turn their social life around and make friends. 

1. Don’t jump in and “fix it."

Avoid the temptation to jump in and “fix” things. This sends the message that you are questioning your teen’s competency. Gently gaining your child’s trust is the best way to begin a conversation about a painful subject.

2. Open up communication.

Teens are notoriously difficult to converse with, but do your best to understand their social landscape. No matter what, empathize and try to stay calm. They may say, “This girl says cruel stuff to me in front of others, and no one stands up for me.” Summarize and repeat back her statements to allow her to interpret your summary, share more and clarify her thoughts.

By trying to understand you teen's  perspective, you invite them to be comfortable opening up to you

One of the most important jobs of parenthood is to offer support. Let your teen know they can always talk to you about their concerns, and that you want to be a source of comfort and encouragement in their life. Having a strong foundation of love and support at home can give your child the courage they might need to talk to a new classmate or start playing a new sport after school.

RELATED: 19 Experts Share The #1 Thing Parents Should Never Say To Kids — And What To Say Instead

3. Identify the root cause.

In order to truly help address your teen's loneliness, you must first determine what social skills they are lacking. Be sure to check your own biases before encouraging your teen to become more involved in activities.

You may have been popular, but now you must honestly access what’s getting in the way of making friends. Ask yourself, “Can my teen make new friends? Could they join and collaborate with a group?” 

4. Talk about friendship.

Discuss what makes a good friend, how they choose friends, what their interests are, and who else shares those interests. Ask your teen how a friend makes them feel. Does a particular friend make them feel valued?

5. Talk about change and transitions.

We usually surround ourselves by people who share our interests. A change in interests is no one’s fault. New sports, groups, and social circles can often translate into new friendships. Your teen, or your teen’s friends, may choose to start new activities, which will probably translate into spending less time together.

If your teen expresses feelings of abandonment, explain that people and interests change, and that its healthy for children their age to pursue new things.

It’s okay to miss that friend, it’s just going to take a little more work to schedule seeing each other.  

RELATED: 6 Ways Parents Can Communicate With Their Teenagers (According To Teens)

6. Get them involved in activities

Encourage your teen to become involved in a sport or other activity but don’t push too hard. When kids are already struggling, forcing them against their will isn’t a good way to gain cooperation, particularly with teens who are trying to become more independent. Instead, suggest three potential activities and together evaluate each one. It’s enough to find just one thing they like to do once a week. 

The goal is to both encourage socialization and to help them discover their interests. Everyone needs a place where they shine and it will give him something to look forward to. Plus, built-in structure can help reduce anxiety.

Help keep things going. If you have a car, offer to drive your child to social events and activities. Or let your child invite a friend on family outings.

7. Praise their effort

Take every opportunity to praise your teen when you see them using friendship skills effectively. Reassure your child that you love them and that everyone struggles with something.

This will give your child the confidence to continue to use and perfect their social skills. And don’t stress if they don’t “believe” you, sometimes kids need to hear your praise over and over again. It’s good for their hearts, and their self-esteem.

8. Model good behavior

Be sure to model how to pay attention to others and resolve conflicts calmly when talking to friends and family members. 

9. Tell your child that you believe in them and they can do this

The most important thing is to keep communication flowing between you and your child without taking an authoritarian approach. 

Raising teens isn’t easy. Even the healthiest parents struggle from time to time. But when your child is struggling to make or keep friendships, it’s important to support your child with kindness, skills and direction. And of course love.

RELATED: The 39 Best Ways To Make Kids Feel Loved, According To 39 Parenting Experts

Caroline Maguirre, M. Ed., ACCCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL methodology for adults, parents, clinicians, and academic professionals. She specializes in teaching development of critical social, emotional, and behavioral skills.

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This article was originally published at author website. Reprinted with permission from the author.