Tips for Parents
When Your Adolescent is Struggling with Social Isolation
© Amy Wilner, PsyD
When teenagers are suffering emotionally, even the most competent parents can feel confused about how to help. Although you can’t make the problems disappear, there are things you can do. Teens who struggle with the pain of social isolation usually benefit from talking about their experience in ways that can help them better understand and manage their feelings.
Be observant, but don’t assume you know what’s going on. Ask questions.
Don’t hound your son or daughter, but do communicate your interest by being curious. You might think you know what your child is going through, but it’s important to respect that your teen has his or her own experiences and feelings.
Attempt conversations regularly, but not incessantly.
Don’t take it personally if your adolescent isn’t ready or able to talk with you. If these conversations aren’t productive, offer your teen another adult to talk with.
Stay calm and try not to expose your teen to your anxiety that might be stirred up by his or her situation.
If you need to, find someone to talk with so that when you are with your child, you can really listen and be responsive to what he or she is saying rather than what you are worried about.
Spend one-on-one time with your teen that doesn’t involve talking about what’s wrong.
In fact, you shouldn’t make your teen’s challenges the focus of all your interactions. You can play sports, take hikes, go to movies… Don’t treat this time as a substitute for peer interactions, but do let your teen know you find his/her company valuable.
You are the adult and you have veto power; use it judiciously.
Most adolescents really want to navigate their own way through social situations. You can give your teens reasonable opportunities and offer guidance or suggestions, but you can’t force it. If you are worried about your child’s emotional health and things seem to be stuck or getting worse, seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in adolescents.
Don’t be afraid to seek a consultation for yourself.
Just because we survived our own adolescence doesn’t mean we don’t need help when it comes to being parents of teenagers. It may only take a few meetings with an experienced therapist to get on track.