It’s itneresting that I hear this not only from homeschooled families, but also from families who have teens in a school setting, and probably more from the families with teens in school. The teen years can be hard in that teens are often figuring out who they are. Cliques and bullying can be an huge issue, especially in the middle school grades of 6-8, despite everything said at school about inclusion and being kind to everyone. IN high school, this seems to dissipate, but friendships often fade away and shift, particularly around tenth grade typically.
It can be hard for parents to navigate this time. Sometimes it can be hard to tell what is loneliness versus moodiness versus being withdrawn versus being anxious and depressed. Teens may be moody (and when does that line cross from moody to depressed?), and they can withdraw from groups of friends they previously enjoyed to be with a new group of friends (which many times is around 10th grade). Maybe the teens feel as if they tried many of the clubs or things geared to their interests, but for whatever reasons, they didn’t make good friends out of it.
I have read some sources that say lonely teens go on to be lonely adults because they don’t learn how to function in groups and practice social skills. Well, if that isn’t panicking to the parents of a lonely teen, I am not sure what is! And I don’t think that is necessarily true. I have a different take. I think as human beings we are always changing, always growing, and that it doesn’t have to be that way. Change is possible. Some people are more introverted, and if your teen is, they may be happy with a smaller circle of friends both as a teen and as an adult. But if your teen is lonely, I think change can come in the upper years of high school and in college, and often these teens garner friends for life in a different setting.
In dealing with this situation, I think it is very important that first and foremost your teen spend time with you and the family. This connection is loving and grounding. It may not replace the friendships and peers that they are lonely for, but they will know they will always be loved and that the family is the first place of friendship.
And, in this connection and grounding with us, we can help facilitate. No, you can’t set up really set up playdates for mid to older teens, but you can talk to your teen about how sometimes we have a circle of acquaintances and that it is great to reach out to someone you don’t know as well to see if they would like to do something. Providing that bit of emotional coaching can be really helpful. I have seen that many teens are lonely, but none of them seem especially willing to reach out! That is so hard. We can also encourage jobs, volunteer work, and activities where teens spend a good amount of time with other teens for a common goal – sports, music, theater, robotics, speech and debate – whateve
For those of you with younger teens, you can encourage groups of friends going to do something instead of having just only one friend that everything is done with. This helps for the high school years where things dissipate a bit more. Tenth grade is particular seems to be an age where many friendships fall apart and the social circle shifts. You can help your younger teen explore interests and connect with peers over that interest.
I would also make sure you as the parent are not projecting your wishes for your teen’s social life on to them. Make sure that they are actually seeking friends before you offer any words or actions to them. They may be happy with the way things are, and it is up to us to respect that. So make sure it is true loneliness, and not just you projecting that you think they are lonely!
Lastly, teens connecting over the Internet has replaced much of the going and hanging out somewhere, so I think always being aware of your teen’s digital connections is important, whether they are lonely and seeking friends on-line or that they feel their social needs are met through on-line venues. It really is open to us to keep the lines of communication open on that and to set and use the boundaries we set as a family regarding media usage.
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for parents dealing with their lonely teens.
Blessings and love,