Prev Next
Lonely Teen After a Move: Time to Intervene?

Lonely Teen After a Move: Time to Intervene?

By Mir Kamin

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

***************

K writes:

A year ago our family moved from a city to a rural area about 4 hours away, in the same state. My husband, 7-year-old, and I are enjoying the new pace of life, but my almost 14-year-old still seems to be struggling and I’m at a loss as to what I should do, or if I should do anything about it at all.

My concern is that she does not have one single friend in our new town. Before we moved I allowed her to set up a Facebook page (that we monitor) because she was really torn up about leaving her friends, but now I’m wondering if that was a mistake. All she wants to do is spend her free hours interacting with her old friends online. Meanwhile, these girls’ lives in our old town are broadcast on Facebook, and seeing pictures of them playing soccer or going to parties together seems to upset my daughter and makes her feel left out.

She occasionally complains about being lonely, but refuses to join any of the (admittedly, few) activities at school and declines invitations to dances or even to sit with people at lunch. She’s just totally disinterested in these kids to the point of being stand-offish. This is a small town and I’m worried she’s going to alienate every single potential friend before she even starts high school. At home she’s generally pleasant to be around, but she is always alone and always begging for more computer time. I can’t tell if this is actually a problem, or if I’m just creating one by wishing she were more social and integrated in our community, like she was in our old city.

We thought time might fix this but we’re now a year in with no change in her attitude or social status. Do I just need to sit back and let her keep being lonely, or should I get involved in some way?

Is there anything harder than watching our kids be unhappy? I don’t think so. I hear your worry here loud and clear, and I completely empathize with your desire to “fix” this, somehow.

Let’s discuss a few different things, here. First: I would say 14/end-of-middle-school is kind of the bubble between “try to fix this” and “it’s time to step back.” We’re not talking about your daughter being in any real danger, and we are talking about her figuring out how to manage her social life, and so this age is where simply deciding how to proceed becomes difficult. If you’re witnessing what seems to be real depression—if her grades are suffering, you’re seeing mood/appetite/sleep changes—then action is required, of course. I’m sure even a rural community has some options for finding her a therapist, and even if you don’t feel she’s truly depressed, it may be worth asking her if she’d be interested in having someone to talk to who’s a neutral third party. But if she’s just… mildly lonely, which is what it sounds like, at this age you run the risk of upsetting her further if you intervene.

At the same time, do an honest assessment of how she’s spending her non-school time, and then have a family meeting about being healthy and well-balanced (frame it however you’d like) which includes, if necessary, discussion of how everyone needs to have a hobby/activity, and brainstorming possibilities. We’ve always had a rule that you have to be involved in at least one group activity because unless you plan to become a hermit, working with others is a skill to cultivate. Whether it’s a sport or a club or a job… well, those are details to work out within your family. If she does nothing but go to school and get on the computer, I think you are okay saying, “Let’s find something you’ll enjoy, but you need to do something.”

Second, the best defense for any kid, really, but especially one who maybe doesn’t have a solid social space at school, is for home to be a safe and loving place. I’m sure it already is, but if you start nagging her (not saying you’re a nag, but she may perceive any meddling here as nagging) about the friends thing, will that change her perception of home as her soft place to land? It’s something to consider.

Third, our kids today live online. Don’t regret the Facebook page. Don’t get too frustrated about her time online. If she didn’t have that—if she was a teenager back when we were teens—she’d be writing letters or talking on the phone. She’s doing what feels comfortable, right now, and while it may be holding her back from forming new friendships, in your eyes, it’s much more likely the effect (of missing her old pals) rather than the cause (of the stand-offishness). I don’t think her connections with her old friends are a barrier to making new ones; I suspect they’re a comfort to her, and without them, she’d be even unhappier right now.

And fourth, unless your community is really tiny, next fall she’ll head into high school with some more new kids from at least one other middle school, right? Even if it’s just the same group of kids, the summer before high school tends to bring changes and shifts in alliances and everyone feels new and unsure. It may be that when high school begins she branches out a little, meets some new kids, reconsiders some activities, etc. I’d go so far as to say it’s likely. It’s not that far off, either. If I were you, I might start looking into what she could spend her summer doing that would likely get her spending time with kids she’ll be with in high school next year—whether that’s a camp, a volunteer gig, etc.—and present possibilities under the guise of “here’s something to stay busy” rather than pointing out that it may expand her social horizons.

Finally, make sure your yardstick is truly your daughter’s needs rather than “what’s normal.” (Please note that I say this with an abundance of compassion and gentleness, as I often fret when my kids are different, even if it doesn’t bother them one bit.) Maybe right now she’s occasionally missing her old friends but is basically okay. Make sure you’re seeing what’s really going on and not your own fears for her adjustment. Some (a lot?) of teens are good with having acquaintances at school and feeding their deeper connection needs elsewhere, and that’s okay if it works for them. From my own life: When my son returned to public high school after homeschooling, I worried most about his social life, and the reality is that he has not made deep social connections at school (as I feared). But—he has some involvement (and it took a couple of years for that to happen), and he continues to connect with his old friends (who are not at his school), and for the most part my worries are about my own hang-ups rather than his wellness. So take some time to step back and assess whether this is a different-than-you-pictured (but acceptable) trajectory, or truly worrisome.

Best of luck to you and your daughter. They change and evolve so much as teens—I suspect that by this time next year, she’ll be in a very different place.

****************

Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

Photo source: Photodune.net

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

  • Michele

    Mir, I think you advice is sound but I really encourage this parent to watch her child closely and possibly get her assessed sooner rather than later.  We moved at the start of freshman year with twin boys.  Both were unhappy at their high school because it was all about sports. mainly football. We also had a rule that they have one extracurricular activity thinking it would allow them to get to know kids better.  However, one turned out to be desperately unhappy and we didn’t know it for two years as he put a good face on it. His twin thought he was protecting him and assured us those two years that he had friends and was eating lunch with them.  Turns out he was going to the library and just not eating.  His old friends were only an hour away and he was able to see them frequently and keep in touch on FB  Long story short, it turns out he was suffering from Social Anxiety and because of it, had a major depressive episode.  We got him into therapy and a new school and after months of work and medications he is finally happy again and back to his old self.  Social anxiety is relatively common.  Many kids are discovered to have it when they transition to college.  We were fortunate in some sense that it happened in high school.  He is now looking forward to going away to college next year.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Michele. I agree that vigilance is always a good idea (I did mention keeping an eye out for changes, but you’re absolutely right that kids can hide this stuff from us if they want to). Checking in with teachers at school can help give a bigger picture, too, if you’re worried.

  • Alyssa

    I just wanted to add, my rule of thumb is that not everyone needs a group of friends, but everyone needs at least 1 good friend that they can connect authenticly with. If she is having her emotional needs met by her old friends even online, there is some room to step back. (Although I agree with trying to get her to join some kind of activity, so face to face interactions don’t become a source of anxiety.) Even if that activity is visiting elderly people in a nursing home. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve her age group as long as it involves people. 

  • Julie

    I have to take issue with Mir’s comment ” unless your community is really tiny, next fall she’ll head into high school with some more new kids from at least one other middle school, right?”  No. No, no, no. We have unit districts in my area so no, there is only one middle school feeding into one high school. And no, we’re not ‘tiny’. The writer even stated about limited activities offered at the school.

    Yes, get the girl involved in something. Clubs, groups, sports, part-time job – anything that gets her off the screen and face-to-face. You know what she was like before the move and now you’re seeing major changes. Time to follow your gut and get her moving.

    • Kay

      I agree, Julie, and I was surprised that Mir didn’t address that this has already been going on for a year. I think the writer is right to be very concerned because she describes her daughter as previously being very involved and social. At this point she’s no longer the “new kid” who’s adjusting. The writer states she won’t even sit with kids at lunch and has been rejecting their overtures for at least 1 and possibly closer to 2 school years. For a kid who is clearly wanting social interaction (i.e. she’s getting upset at looking at Facebook pictures of her hometown friends) this seems extreme.

      • I try not to read beyond what I’m actually presented with, on stuff like this. The mom who wrote in saying it’s been a year, the kid is pleasant at home, and that she’s aware she might be projecting her own expectations onto her daughter. The middle school years tend to be fraught under the best of circumstances; sometimes becoming more introverted isn’t cause for alarm. I did address trying to suss out if actual depression is happening (and how to address it, if it is).

        Our standard disclaimer here is that I’m not an expert, and even I was, it wouldn’t be a substitute for in-person intervention. I work with the experience I have and the information folks choose to share. If I’m off the mark and the OP is still worried, I hope she will seek appropriate assistance from professionals rather than writing to an advice columnist (and I mean that without a shred of snark).