Unpopular: How to help your teenager
By Mercedes Samudio
It’s hard to resist the temptation—in the name of “helping”—to try to micromanage your teen’s social life, especially if your teenager feels unpopular. You might feel anxious every time your son is left out, or worry when your daughter sits home on Saturday night. You want to jump in and help, but is that appropriate? And how could you help? The days of organizing play dates for your child are long past.
These conflicting feelings are totally normal. The challenging part is managing them. Here are two strategies that I recommend to parents who are trying to help when a teenager feels unpopular.
So, Your Teenager Feels Unpopular
1. Let Them Feel
Rather than trying to fix your teenager’s struggles with friends, take a step back and instead focus on allowing your teenager to have their feelings about being unpopular. This can be difficult, but when parents rush in to neatly put away emotions—That’s silly. I’m sure lots of people want to be your friend—teenagers can see their feelings as abnormal and they’ll be less likely to share these feelings with their parents again.
Parents can quell the anxiety that may come up while watching a teenager struggle through feeling unpopular by giving teenagers space (and permission) to express their emotions. Tell your teenager that he can feel sad, disappointed, angry, or anything else, but you want him to know that he is not alone and he doesn’t have to manage these feelings alone. Then, tell him where you’ll be when he’s ready to talk.
2. Support Their Identity Development
The second way to be supportive is to help your teen identify the person she wants to be. This includes keeping your ideas of popularity to yourself (remember, there’s no right number of friends), and opening up a discussion of who your teenager thinks is popular—and what she thinks it means to be a popular person. As she begins to share her ideas, listen and ask open-ended questions, such as “Can you tell me more about that idea?” or “What does that mean?” Even if you think you know the answers, getting your teen to express herself is a good way to learn exactly how she needs to be guided. Through this discussion you’ll be able to learn whether your teen has a healthy self-image and self-esteem, what he thinks about his peers, and the social traits he desires. This information is invaluable as you help him manage his experience of feeling unpopular.
These two strategies encourage parents to focus on how a teenager feels, while also giving teenagers the foundation for developing internal strength regardless of who approves of them—a trait I am sure all parents want their teenagers to have. Ultimately, your teenager will trust that he can rely on your support as he seeks to fix his social problems on his own.
Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, is a parent coach based in Huntington Beach, CA. Learn more about Samudio at TheParentingSkill.com.