07-06-2021 09:15 AM - last edited on 07-27-2021 10:29 AM by Janine-RO
I’m hoping I can get some help here. My 14-year-old son, The quarterback for his high school football team, does not have one single friend and cannot seem to make any. To me he is the sweetest and most loyal person, but he is immature and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t stop talking about football so I can see how that can be exhausting.
I need some help. I feel like it’s my fault because maybe I wasn’t as involved with other moms while he was growing up, or I didn’t sign him up for the right sports teams etc. Now it’s not like I can plan any play dates because he is too old for that. He acts like it doesn’t bother him, but I know that he is very lonely. He does not fit the typical believe kid, although he has been bullied severely in middle school and it has really left a scar on him socially. I’m not sure if he has social anxiety now, but I don’t know how to help and make friends. I’m heartbroken over this.
Are there any groups for boys that like sports that may have social anxiety that he can join?
It sounds like a really challenging situation. A lot of teens have problems with making friends around this age - teens can sometimes still be developing their social skills and confidence, and it is also an age where friendships can often change quite a bit.
People can experience loneliness and a lack of friends for a range of reasons - sometimes it can be due to social anxiety, or a lack of social skills, and sometimes it’s because the person doesn’t have much in common with those around them.
It’s hard to say which of these is the case for your son, though since he has been bullied in the past, it would not be surprising if he worries about being rejected by other teens. Your idea of him joining a group where he can interact with other kids is a great approach. I’m not sure if you are thinking about a social club or group where they do fun activities, or were thinking more of a support group. I’ll talk about both of these.
A group or club which is focused on organised activities (such as a sports group, or something like Scouts) can help in a number of ways. People with social anxiety often find having a shared activity is less stressful than an unstructured social event (as it creates an immediate topic of conversation, and means that they can focus on the activity instead of the social interaction when feeling overwhelmed). Because your son would be spending time with other teens, joining a club or group of some kind would also allow him to practice his social skills, and meet new people who are interested in the same things as him.
I can’t offer specific suggestions of groups because it will depend on what is in your local area (and I’m also only familiar with Australian organisations). Researching local groups with your son might be a good way to explore options together.
In terms of support groups for social anxiety - this is an option which addresses things directly, and could be helpful if your son thinks that social anxiety is what is making it hard for him to have friends, and if he would be interested in attending. Support from peers can be very powerful.
I’m wondering if you have spoken with your son about friends? I know that this can be really hard to do - often teens who struggle with friendships feel really self-conscious about this, so may not want to talk about it with their parents. However, checking in with him can also provide an opportunity to get his ideas and thoughts on what he needs, as well as show your support.
Teens vary a lot in how much social interaction they want (as well as how much of this is in person versus online friendships, which can be less visible to parents). It can be helpful to ask if there are things that are holding him back from talking to peers, and if this is something he’d like more support with (instead of describing the situation as ‘not having friends’).
There are some more general tips about helping supporting teenagers to make friends here: Teenagers making friends - can parents help?
Speaking to a psychologist or a counsellor could also be helpful if your son would like the chance to talk through what is bothering him with someone, or if he feels uncertain about what is causing the lack of friendships, They can explore aspects such as social anxiety or social skills which might be contributing and help him develop some strategies.
You mention wondering if this is something caused by something you did or didn’t do. Kids are so individual - there are kids who are signed up for sports teams and activities who struggle with friendships as teenagers, and the reverse can also be true where kids who aren’t involved in organised activities when they are younger are very popular and social teenagers. I know that it’s hard for parents not to feel guilty when their child or teenager is struggling with something, but it sounds like you are being pretty hard on yourself. There’s no ‘perfect’ approach when it comes to parenting - when it comes to how many or few structured activities to provide for kids; or how strict or permissive to be regarding rules; or how much autonomy to grant teens. Every family is different in terms of what works best, and no matter what decisions parents make, there will be times when their teens face challenges or difficulties.
Since it can be so stressful to see your child experience these difficulties, I encourage you to have a think about some self-care for yourself. One of the best things that parents can do for their kids is to make sure that they are also looking after their own wellbeing. If you’re not feeling okay, it becomes much harder to look after someone else. There are some tips on ways that parents and teens can look after themselves here: Self-care and teenagers
Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.