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Ask the Expert: I Think My Son Is Lonely Without Friends

Dear Your Teen:

I have a 13-year-old son who is extremely intelligent and mature for his age. He’s homeschooled, and is a few grades ahead, and he’s already planning his college, majors and minors, etc. There’s only one concern right now: my son has no friends.

Do you need more on teens and friends?

I’m worried about his social life. He’s president of the local 4-H club and involved with our youth group, but he doesn’t really fit in with the other children. He finds his peers too rambunctious and less academically intriguing. He loves to read and they love to play video games.

Whenever we go somewhere, he prefers talking with the adults.

Occasionally he’ll spend time with someone his own age, but the other child always leaves for other friends.

He is not socially awkward. My son can hold a conversation, and he has a level-headed mind. He runs our 4-H meetings with confidence, and is incredibly dedicated and involved. He just doesn’t like being with other kids, and I’m worried that my son is lonely.

ANSWER | Dr. Tori Cordiano

In the absence of the built-in social interactions that come with traditional schooling, homeschooled teens and their parents must work harder to find a social network. Supporting efforts to develop friendships is a worthy pursuit for several reasons:

  • Friendships are among the most central relationships during adolescence
  • Teenagers derive valuable support from their friends.
  • Having a close friend in adolescence can lead to lower rates of anxiety and depression.

Helpfully, studies also show that it’s not necessary for teenagers to be “popular” or have a large group of friends to reap these benefits. One or two friends are all they need. Here are three steps to help your child find a friend or two.

1. Join Activities.

Your son’s involvement in 4-H and youth group provides a good opportunity for social connection. You might try helping him identify individual members who he would like to get to know and think with him about how to connect with them one-on-one during or outside of group meetings. Many teens (and adults) dislike large-group socializing but enjoy spending time with one or two friends.

2. Volunteer.

Perhaps your son could become involved in volunteer work that utilizes his maturity and leadership skills. This may also help your son connect with like-minded peers. Finally, considering other groups that align with his specific interests may help him. He may find other teenagers that share his love of reading, or it could be a chance to explore a new interest with others.

3. Practice social skills.

While you describe your son as mature and socially capable, many other parents find that their children’s social skills lag behind their cognitive capabilities. For these families, it’s important to remember that development is often uneven across domains—children may master academic skills with ease but struggle with the reciprocity of friendships or the routines of self-care. Some teens need extra practice or instruction in the nuances of friendship, even as they demonstrate advanced skills in other areas.

Parents can offer opportunities for developing these skills through structured and unstructured activities or social skills groups. The process of making friends, though easy and natural for some teenagers, presents unique challenges for others. Parents can help by showing sensitivity to this, and by encouraging thoughtfully chosen activities that open teens up to new peers.

Dr. Tori Cordiano is a clinical psychologist in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Research Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls.

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