It’s painful to watch our tweens and teens struggle with social problems in middle school. But it’s important to let them take the lead in solving these problems, say the experts. Without taking over, parents can best support their teens by helping them figure out how to take the lead in resolving their own issues.
How to Encourage Teens to Take the Lead:
1. Listen first; suggest second.
If teens confide in you, they may not want a response. On the other hand, if you are witnessing a damaging and broken friendship, you need to help your teen recognize that. Just tread carefully because teenagers are likely to push back when they perceive their parents don’t like their friends. “Parents may sense that their child is getting the raw end of the deal in a relationship,” says Tori Cordiano, a psychologist in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “One successful way to start that conversation—and this works at any age —is to tell your child simply and directly that you want them to have friends that make them feel good about themselves.”
2. Broaden their perspective.
Sometimes, teenagers who continue struggling to find friends may be knocking on the wrong door. “When a teenager sits alone for lunch or has no one to make plans with, they may only be looking at a select group of popular kids. What about the rest of the class? Parents can help them to expand their horizons. Someone else is out there,” suggests Suzanne Schneps, a clinical psychologist in Beachwood, Ohio. Also consider enrolling your teen in activities outside of school as a way to help broaden her potential circle of friends.
3. Resist fixing their problems.
Parents may want to ease the way for their children, but this is not necessarily helpful. “Navigating difficult social situations gives kids coping mechanisms. And that’s important. Not every boss is going to be a fabulous person. There can be cliques in the workplace. So, some of what we are teaching our kids is how to be true to themselves, while dealing with the complexities of different social groups,” adds Schneps. Shaker Heights Middle School counselor Kelly Anderson couldn’t agree more. “It’s tough as a parent to send your child to middle school. It’s natural to be protective, but it’s also important to step back,” she says. “When parents are too involved in helping to solve every social problem in middle school, the kids lose the opportunity to build resilience.”