Are you a parent of a teenager who is sitting at home alone or isolating themselves? Watching your child experience social difficulties is hard, particularly when bullying is involved. After all, as a parent, you want the best for your children.
According to Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, adolescence is a time when one is figuring out their identity. Your challenge as a parent is figuring out how to support them while giving them enough freedom and trust to figure out their own way.
This article will outline some practical tips you can implement to help your teen with their social life without being imposing.
How to help your teen make friends
There are many ways you can help your teenager out socially. Most important is to keep an environment of support. A well-intentioned parent can unintentionally cross the line into enabling or controlling behavior. Here are some strategies to try.
1. Support the way your teenager likes to socialize
You may have ideas about how your child should be socializing. Maybe you’d like them to go to parties or participate in certain types of hobbies. You may be concerned if they only have friends of a particular gender.
It’s essential that you let your teenager explore the right way for them to socialize. Don’t get too involved by trying to choose their friends or setting up get-togethers for them. Instead, let them take the lead. Allow them to attend get-togethers they are interested in. They may prefer to play games with their friends or cook dinner together. Let your teen experiment and find what they’re comfortable with.
If you have doubts about certain types of friends or activities, talk to your son or daughter about them without punishing or controlling what to do. Instead, try to come from a place of understanding, ask questions, and prepare yourself to truly listen.
You can also suggest this article on tips for making friends as a teenager to them.
2. Host fun get-togethers
Planning a fun get-together can be a fun activity for you and your teenager if they are interested. Your teenager may have some people they’d like to invite, or you can host an event for neighborhood families.
3. Encourage extracurricular activities
Joining after-school groups such as sports, debate, theater, and art classes can help your teenager make new friends and learn new skills. Encourage them to try something new, but don’t push them. Make sure to be open to what your teenager is interested in rather than trying to convince them of any particular activities.
4. Consider summer camp
Sleepaway summer camps are places where many teenagers make life-long friendships. The proximity, distance from the familiar environment, and shared activities all create an environment that encourages new connections.
If your teenager is struggling in their high school where everyone knows them, going away to camp where they can get a shot at “starting over” may give them a chance to open up.
Of course, check with your teenager if this is something they’d be interested in, and see if there is a camp that matches their interests.
5. Don’t put their friends down
You may unconsciously discourage your teenager from socializing if you say negative things about their friends, acquaintances, or classmates. Putting down the way their peers dress, talk, or carry themselves will make your teenager feel judged.
Be supportive of your teenager’s choices in the people they want to befriend. If you believe you have valid reasons to dislike their friends, tread carefully when bringing it up. Before this, you might like to check this article on types of toxic friends.
If you decide to intervene, instead of saying, “your friend is a bad influence,” you could try asking your teenager how their friend makes them feel. Emphasize the importance of good values like trustworthiness, honesty, and kindness.
6. Talk about your friendships
Use examples from your friendships to show your teen how to work through conflicts and how friends can show up for each other.
If you’re struggling with your own friendships, use this time as an opportunity to work on your own social life! You’ll get the added benefit of modeling healthy behavior for your teen as you create a more fulfilling life for yourself. You might like to read our complete social skills guide to get started in the right direction.
7. Get them social skills training
Your teen may be struggling with some social skills that may be getting in the way of them making friends. To build good connections, one relies on skills like knowing how to make up and keep a conversation, knowing how to read body language, and reading nuance. Your teen may need some extra help with that.
If your teen likes to read and learn by themselves, consider getting them a book or workbook on making friends. Otherwise, they may prefer an online course that focuses on the issues they’re struggling with.
8. Consider the benefits of therapy
Consider a mental health evaluation if your teenager is isolating themselves and seems unwilling to try to socialize or talk to you about the situation. Depression, anxiety, autism, or trauma may be playing a part.
When searching for a therapist, try to find someone experienced working with teens. The therapist should be compassionate to your teen and give them a safe place to talk about their feelings. That means that the therapist shouldn’t tell you what they are talking about in sessions unless there is a risk of harm to themselves or others.
Remember that a good therapist will likely ask to talk to you alone or have family sessions. Working on family dynamics can often lead to positive changes in your teen. Don’t label your teenager as “the problem,” and be open to feedback from the therapist.
Take your teenager’s feedback into account. You want them to feel comfortable with their therapist.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and are cheaper than going to a therapist's office.
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9. Help your teen out where you can
Teenagers often have barriers to socializing, like not being financially independent and being reliant on others to get around. Give your teenager a ride to events, some cash to go eat with friends, or other practical help when and where it’s possible for you.
10. Don’t make your teen’s social life a big deal
If you’re worried about your teenager’s social interactions, it may be something that keeps coming up in conversations. If you find yourself suggesting social activities for your teenager or constantly asking them why they’re not doing this or that, try to take a break from that. Make sure you’re having enough conversations about other things with your teenager.
There are two reasons for this:
- If your teenager is struggling socially, it’s likely something that bothers them already. By bringing it up again, even in a kind way, your teenager will feel reminded that there’s something “wrong” with them or that they’re not doing right. By bringing it up repeatedly, the issue cements itself as significant, which can increase the anxiety around it.
- Talking to your child about movies, music, hobbies, day-to-day life, and other topics will help them get better at having conversations and more comfortable doing so with others. It can remind them that others enjoy spending time with them.
11. Work on your relationship with your teen
Make an effort to strengthen the bond you have with your teenager. You want to create an environment where your teen feels that they can come to you with their problems. The way to make that happen is not by repeatedly asking your teen how they’re doing but by creating a safe space.
When your teenager talks about their interests, listen intently. Make sure you’re giving them your attention during the conversation. Ask questions when they talk instead of replying with, “that’s nice.” Set a time to do things together one-on-one, and let your teenager choose the activity.
12. Help them boost their confidence
Many teenagers struggle with self-esteem and feel awkward around others. Help your teenager feel better about themselves by finding activities and interests they’re passionate about. Praise your teen for the progress they make and let them know that you appreciate them and enjoy spending time with them.
If your teenager is shy or introverted, highlight their positive qualities such as sensitivity, intelligence, and depth.
Don’t be shy to ask your teen what they think can help you improve your relationship. It will help them practice being active in building a relationship. Remember, your part is to listen to your teen and consider their feedback. Try to create an atmosphere of equals.
Should you force teenagers to socialize?
Forcing your teenager to socialize can backfire. People, and teenagers in particular, tend to resent what they are forced to do. By forcing your teenager to socialize, they will associate socializing with punishment rather than seeing it as a fun activity.
Is it normal for a teenager to have no friends?
Many teenagers struggle with making and keeping friends. According to one Pew Research survey, about half of teens say they tend to stand out rather than fit in. Adolescence is a difficult time, and teenagers go through intense emotions as they figure out who they are and their place in the world.