anonymous Asks ...
My 14 year old daughter has no friends. She has a great heart but she is shy and she is a bit of a late bloomer. I try to encourage her to join clubs and after school activities but she does not want to. She is obviously lonely. I try to spend a lot of time with her but she does not open up to me about what is going on at school. It breaks my heart to see her in pain. I wish I knew how to help her? Please give me some advice!
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
There are several levels of concerns that this question points to. The first layer is how parents perceive what is going on in their children's life. Then there is the perspective of loneliness (which is actually much larger than an adolescent issue). Finally, there is the question of how to help a child become engaged and involved. These three layers can be addressed in general, but specific answers for the questioner's situation would require more understanding of the whole situation and it may benefit from the involvement of a counselor.
In general, parent want what is best for their children. They want their children to be happy and successful wit smooth transitions through the various stages of life. The easist way to look at their child's life is through the lens of their own life. It is easy to see positive things in our child's life when it parallels the positive we experienced in our own life and it is easy to want to avoid the thing that were negative experiences in our own life. It is much harder to see what is going on through the lens of our child's eyes. To do this requires putting on the other person's glasses and seeing the world through them. This can result in our projecting our own perspective on things onto our child. This is not necessarily the case for the person who posed thi question, but there are some signs that point to this possibility, namely, if you read the question carefully everything that is labeled as negative is done so based on the determination of the parent and not because that is the way it has been described by the child (who in this case is an adolescent).
My best guess is that this parent is an extrovert and that their adolescent is an introvert. Let me be clear about these terms. An extrovert is one who is energized and recharges by being around other people. On the other hand, and introvert is energized and recharged from within themselves (even if they engage well with other people). These are preferences within our personality and generally remain fairly stable throughout our life. In this sense, it is possible for the child to be aone and not lonely. Earlier in life, the younger child may have been very engaged with imaginary friends and may now enjoy activities that are more solitary. While these are our preferences (and this will affect how satisfied we are with situations), it can also be good to explore the other side. An introvert can enjoy being with and doing things with groups of people (so long as they can recharge through soem personal time) and extroverts can come to enjoy quiet time on their own (so long as they can recharge through some social involvement). Having an understanding of whehter your child is just prefering to do activities alone or is lonely can be difficult, especially if the parent is an extrovert.
Having said that, how can we help our adolesent engage if that turns out to be an appropriate thing to do. If your child is more of an introvert, the idea of joining clubs and activities may not be particularly attractive. After all, it is going against the prefered personality style. On the other hand, with careful understanding, appropriate motivations are possible. For example, whn an adolescent has a "great heart", what are they particularly passionate about. What ways are there to get the adolescent involved in activities with other people that connect around the area of passion. If they are passionate about poverty, are there avenues to be involved in a soup kitchen? If they are passionate about animal, is there a group looking to protect strayanimals? Some of these may be connected to the school but some solutions may be in more creative places.
Finally, know that parents are not perfect in going through these situations. Another thing to realize is that given the developmental tasks of an adolescent, it is not uncommon that the adolescent will chose to talk with and confide in other adults who are not their parents. This is a normal part of the process of maturing. As you exam yourself nd look at your adolescent's life, it is possible for both of you to find wholeness and peace.