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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

My Son Has No Close Friends: Do I Need to Worry?

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QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I hope you can help. I'm sure this is a common problem. My 12-year-old, going on 13, doesn't seem to have any close friends. He's a nice kid, a good kid. He has had some good friends in elementary school in the past, but was switched in his classes each year so every time he made a friend, he wasn't in the same class with that child the next year and it fell apart.

Last year, he started middle school and met some new kids but got in trouble with them. This year he doesn't seem to hang with them. He doesn't have a best friend; he is never invited over to other kids' houses or for overnights. This has been true since about fourth grade when he never asked for friends to come over or got asked to stay over much with other kids.

He's refused to really talk about it and just says "It's fine, Mom!" Unfortunately, there have been problems at home between my husband and me. We also don't have much of a social life. I visit friends outside the home, like going to dinner with friends, but my son may be reluctant to bring anyone home.

I know that he does talk to kids at school and I'm pretty sure he's not ostracized there. The kids he calls "friends" asked him to join the 7th grade football team but outside of seeing kids at school, there is no other social interaction.

I want him to develop healthy relationships but between home difficulties and his teen avoidance, I don't know what to do. I feel badly about him being left out.

Also, we are not members of a church or synagogue, which are big social drivers in our town but I know other parents aren't either so I can't tie it just to that He is playing football at school so I am hoping he'll have more opportunities meeting new friends.

Thanks for any help our direction you can give me,

Jackie

ANSWER

Dear Jackie,

Entering middle school is a big adjustment for both teens and for their parents. I don't know how large your school system is but students are typically thrown into a much larger pool of kids than they were used to in elementary school---at a time when many are feeling self-conscious and awkward. This transition can be particularly difficult for those who tend to be shy or who have to work harder at making new friends.

Also bear in mind that some teens, by virtue of personality, tend to be more comfortable being alone than with others. If your son seems "fine" with his more limited network of friends, make sure you aren't transferring your own needs and/or insecurities onto him. Are there any signs of him not doing well in school or actively avoiding being with people his age?

If you do sense something is truly wrong, dig deeper. Your son may be uncomfortable in inviting friends over if there is a high level of conflict in your home. Young people can be very attuned to their parents' moods and may be reluctant to add to their stress. If your concerns persist, you might want to consider having him talk to someone outside of the family.

In the meantime, it's great that he's made the football team. Just continue to support and encourage him without pressuring him unnecessarily. The greatest likelihood is that he will "grow into" middle school and into a more active social life as soon as he is ready.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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