I have a thirteen-year-old daughter who I’m concerned about because she socializes so little. She is naturally a loner and has never had a lot of friends, but it seems to me that she is alone too much. I’m more upset about this than she is — I feel she’s missing out on so much of what’s important in childhood. Is there something I can do to help her join in with her peers a bit more, or should I just leave her alone in this area?
First of all, you need to realize that each person has an inborn temperament, a biological way of being which we (and they) can do very little about. The research evidence shows that whether a person is a self-sufficient introvert or a people-oriented extrovert is largely a matter of inborn inheritance, which is very difficult to change. One of my sons is an extrovert, and one is an introvert. Sometimes I would love to turn the introvert into an extrovert, and sometimes I would love to turn the extrovert into an introvert! I’d like my extroverted son to be more self-sufficient, and pay less attention to what others think of him. I’d like my introverted son to be the centre of a group of fun-loving friends, and to approach new social situations with boldness and confidence. Although both boys have developed new skills, each has his basic nature which isn’t going to change, and I must just accept them as they are.
Is your daughter happy with being the way she is, or does she feel an overwhelming need for more friends? If she isn’t unhappy about her situation, you don’t need to be. Sometimes a parent has a preference for their child to be a certain way, based on the parent’s own life experience. An extroverted, outgoing parent may not understand an introverted child, and vice versa. Or a parent who herself was introverted may have been told by others that there was something “wrong” with her, so she doesn’t want her child to have the same deficiency she believes herself to have. It is important to accept our own temperament as well as that of our child.
If your daughter is not happy with her lack of friends, it may be because she’s thirteen. Most of us adults have worked hard at forgetting what it was like to be thirteen. Almost all thirteen-year-olds feel ugly; almost all of them lack self-esteem. They all feel their bodies are the wrong shape, too fat or too skinny, they have too many zits, and so on. They feel socially inept, and feel others are going to judge them and ridicule them. It’s hard to have social self-confidence when you feel like this. Also, most thirteen-year-olds have just moved away from their elementary school friends into the larger high school peer group, and all of them are regrouping socially; it takes some time for stable new groups of friends to be established.
Some kids this age withdraw because they don’t like the new kinds of peer pressure. In our present society, to be “popular” at this age, you have to be cruel to other kids. Those who wield power lord it over those who don’t, and the rest try hard to please the power-mongers in order to avoid being picked on. Young teen society is often merciless. By about sixteen, many kids come out of this and form healthier peer groups, but it’s not surprising if your daughter doesn’t want to socialize much at thirteen. It may be a healthy sign that she doesn’t want to participate in the “blood sport” of teen society.
If your daughter does feel she needs and wants more friends, you could help her become involved in activities where she will find a positive peer group – for example, youth groups, volunteerism, environmental causes, acting classes, or organized sports. If she is an introvert, all she needs is one good friend, not a whole crowd. You can also suggest she befriend a classmate who is new in town or seems to need a friend. But remember that at this age she is becoming her own person, and respect her need to make her own choices.