If your teenager basically refuses to socialize with their peers, it’s really important to find out why. Some teens want to, but are terrified of making a social blunder. Other teenagers are struggling with self-consciousness. Still others have depression, and have no motivation to see friends. A fourth group is so entrenched in online activities they don’t seem to care about being social. There are a host of reasons why your teenager might not be interacting with peers, and the aforementioned are just a few.
A great majority of the time I find adolescents actually do want relationships with friends, but don’t necessarily know how to obtain them. Sometimes they are so incredibly socially phobic (afraid of making a social mistake) that it is almost impossible to maintain friendships. They fear they will sound dumb. As a result their minds blank out when they have to have a face to face conversation. It leaves them looking, and feeling stupid. Around people they are comfortable with, your teenager might be the most talkative person in the room. Get them around other adolescents, and they move to the outside and can barely speak audibly.
Others who feel a strong sense of self-consciousness worry constantly that others are judging them. They talk to their friends at school, but simultaneously wonder if that friend is thinking something negative about them. A lot of the time the negative things your teen is concerned with aren’t even noticeable. Your teenager might be afraid everyone they talk to thinks they are fat, or is staring at their acne. In either case, I almost certainly guarantee you the other person isn’t thinking anything about your child; instead they are worried others are judging them. Adolescence is such a difficult age because the level of self-consciousness most teens feel is barely tolerable.
The third group is the adolescent who can’t seem to muster any interest in friends. They know they would feel better if they’d call their friends, but just can’t get enough energy to do it. Depression is a very real phenomenon, and it can be debilitating. If you’ve never experienced it yourself, it’s really hard to understand what your child is going through. The antidotes to depressed moods are selflessness, activity and sometimes medication, but when your teenager is emotionally down, it’s very tough to do any of those things.
Your teen may not be socializing because they have become too entrenched in an online world. Unfortunately I see this pretty frequently. Your teenager has become addicted to technology, and very likely, role playing games. This is incredibly difficult to change unless you become a really strict parent. Your teen is comfortable living in this alternate reality, and doesn’t feel inclined to do anything about it. Once their addiction has ended, they are always glad to be interacting with real people, but until then they will probably fight you tooth and nail. While this might keep your adolescent out of trouble, it’s a great hindrance to their emotional development.
All four of these groups of teens will probably benefit from counseling. While their problems vary quite a bit, the consequence of not socializing can be damaging. It can also perpetuate their struggle. Many times once a non-social teen starts to spend time with a friend or two, their emotional load begins to lighten and they become happier.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT