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Peer Social Skills
Q: My son, a 12-year-old 6th grader, is having difficulties with his peers at middle school. He has a great time with his teachers, though.
We chose to open enroll him in a different middle school than his home school. In elementary school, he was constantly complaining about his peers and wanted to go a new school. During the summer and at the start of school, we talked about appropriate behaviors as well as those behaviors of his former peer group that annoyed him. I thought he was going to make good decisions.
But, instead, he chose to make fun of his new peers' interests -- namely, Pokemon. Now he is constantly complaining about this school. And most of the complaints are related to peer issues --again. One of his complaints resolves around kids who push each other in the hallway, yet in talking him, I've learned everyone gets pushed in the hallway. But he wants to go to another school.
Bringing him back to his home middle school is not an option. It's a school with decreasing test scores as well as discipline problems. As it was, older students now at this home middle school used to pick on him when he was in elementary school. And when he's gone to functions in our town, they still pick on him. He is opinionated. He always shares his opinions whether asked or not. And he is very judgmental. But I see these characteristics in many middle schoolers.
So, how does one help a middle school student learn appropriate peer social skills?
A: You need to recognize that your son has not been able to develop social skills, regardless of how much you instruct him on how to get along with other children. I do not see this pattern stopping and I believe he will become more and more distressed as he matriculates in school. He now carries a longstanding negative reputation that brings him continued disrespect and teasing from other kids. He has not been able to change his irritating, condescending behaviors and attitudes toward other kids. I question whether he really has the cognitive and emotional development and skill base needed to change. Please get him into a professional counseling relationship with a therapist who can teach him the skills that he needs to become socially adept. He actually needs to learn these skills and to practice them. The therapist can also teach him how to respond successfully to the teasing that he receives at school. Social development is as important as any other area of childhood development and your boy desperately needs help in this area. You may also attempt to enroll him in activities and groups outside of school where he might socialize with kids who have like-minded curiosities, interests and hobbies. I know that you will get your son the help that he needs.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.