It’s hard to resist the temptation 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 for a lonely teenager.
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.
What to Do When Your Child Feels Unpopular:
1. Let them feel
You might want to try to fix your teenager’s struggles with friends. Instead, step back and let your teenager live with their feelings about being unpopular. It can be difficult not to rush in to neatly put away their emotions. “That’s silly. I’m sure lots of people want to be your friend.” That kind of response can lead a lonely teenager to see their feelings as abnormal. And they’ll be less likely to share these feelings with their parents again.
Parents can quell the anxiety of 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 about popularity to yourself. Remember, there’s no right number of friends. Instead, open up a discussion. Ask your teenager who is popular. And then ask her 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, and maybe learn how to develop self confidence.
These two strategies encourage parents to focus on how a teenager feels, while also giving teenagers the foundation for developing self confidence and 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.