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Young Teen Has No Social Life
Q: My son is 13-years-old. He has no social life. He does not talk on the phone at all; the few friends he used to have have stopped calling. If someone does call he tells them he can't do anything. He wants to spend all of his time with his father or myself. He plays baseball in the summer but doesn't pal around with any friends. His father and I separated recently, but he's been this way since he first started school. I feel like he's missing so much. How can I help him?
A: I think that you do have cause for concern. Your son has dramatically altered his social life. He has not only withdrawn from his former social world of peers and friends but also tells friends who do call that he "can't do anything." This particular radical change in behavior is the type of red flag that signals possible depression or chronic, debilitating emotional turmoil. He is consciously denying himself something that has given him pleasure and a sense of belonging -- his social world and the company of friends.
Even though you might not connect his social withdrawal with you and your husband's separation (because he withdrew socially before the actual separation), my guess is that he observed disturbing exchanges between you and your husband long before there was an "official" separation. I think that he was probably confused, overwhelmed and scared about what would become of his family long before your separation. His devoting all his spare time to being with you or your husband might be the only way he feels he can hang on to a sense of family with you. He might even believe that he was one of the reasons that you separated.
Kids often believe they are the cause of their parent's separation and divorce, even when their parents tell them that this is not true. He also may be spending so much time with you because he needs the reassurance that you still love him and want to be with him. He might think that he could bring you back together again.
I strongly recommend that the three of you see an experienced family therapist. It may turn out that the therapist wants to see your son on an individual basis, combining his individual sessions with sessions where she sees all three of you together and you and your husband as a couple. Your son is being cheated out of the social growth and development that he needs. I know that you will get your family the professional help that you need.
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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.