Need support and advice - son's social anxiety

<p>Hello.. I don't post here a lot but I definitely need your support and advice now.
My S is 15, finishing 9th grade. He is doing really good academically but I've noticed that he seemed a little "off" in the last few weeks (not as happy, less interested in doing things) so we finally had a long conversation yesterday and it has to do with the way things are going socially.. We've always known that he is an introvert, on a shy side and he seemed pretty happy with just having a few kids to talk to at school but most of the weekends were spent with us. My husband is an amazing dad so they'd always go to the gym together or talk/listen to the music they both love (classic rock) or go to concerts or we'd watch Seinfeld or Office together.</p>

<p>I even asked him if it bothered him that he didn't hang out with kids much on the weekends and he said it didn't so i figured i am already an overprotective mom and should try to stay out of it if it didn't bother him. Well, now apparently, it does. </p>

<p>Due to many different reasons, he is being perceived as different/weird/nerdy at school and he is very bothered by it that he is not liked by some kids. He wants to have a larger group of friends who he can spend time with. </p>

<p>He got himself so worked up about all this that he hasn't been able to get a decent amount of sleep in days.</p>

<p>Now I am finally getting to the reason I am posting this. Being a total introvert myself and not having the american high school experience, I need your support and guidance on many different levels. </p>

<p>If there is anybody who went through a similar experience in high school and had anxiety about it, I would love to hear your story and what worked for you. </p>

<p>I also have to mention that I do understand why he is having the issue - I have an anxiety problems myself and as i mentioned, am an overprotective mom plus i am also an introvert so don't have friends myself other than two women I work with.. he took after me on many different levels including this i already feel horribly guilty and consider myself a failure.</p>

<p>I need to figure out the best way to help him. Does anybody know of any good books on the subject or any internet links? </p>

<p>Also, would like to know how much time your kids spend with their friends especially the kids who are doing well in school. Would love to know we are not the only parents in this situation because it certainly seems this way right now. </p>

<p>Any thoughts or suggestions are immensely appreciated. </p>

<p>Emily.</p>

<p>Is there anyone that he could invite over? Sometimes, you have to start one friend at a time. </p>

<p>Is there a school club he could join next year?</p>

<p>Is there any activity he could get involved with this summer that might be a source of a new friend or two?</p>

<p>Can he volunteer somewhere that he might meet a friend or two? Church? </p>

<p>He needs his comfort zone gently expanded. :)</p>

<p>But, he may need some professional assistance to help him thru this.</p>

<p>Thanks so much mom2.. That's exactly what i told him too - start slow, do it gradually, invite someone over.. but it's just breaking my heart because he is really upset about all this.</p>

<p>I am reluctant to take him to a therapist.. don't want them to label him with some kind of a "disorder".. unfortunately, i know a lot about anxiety so i've been sharing my own techniques with him and telling him about my own experience.. </p>

<p>Anybody else has any experience with this or any suggestions?</p>

<p>For the fall, joining school clubs is a good bet--especially clubs with a purpose that needs willing hands. (In my kids' school, the crew portion of the drama club has been good for a lot of kids.)</p>

<p>Really nice kids run cross country. It is a great sport and you don't have to be really fast to be welcomed in. There is training over the summer at most schools, which is a good way to get in shape (which will help with the sleeping) and meet some other kids. The sport also tends to attract the nerdier kids probably because it is not as time intensive as some other sports, so kids still have time for their studies. </p>

<p>I would also agree with the other posters who suggested clubs and theater. Good luck; I know that it is difficult to watch children struggle. I am a big extrovert and it took me YEARS to figure out that my DD was nothing like me.</p>

<p>Thanks.. he is a member of the political science and the international news newspaper clubs.. but.. they meet let's say once a month and he seems to enjoy it but nothing really comes from it in terms of developing new friendships.. </p>

<p>Forgot to mention, he is not athletic.. he'd go to the gym with my husband and do some swimming but not really into any sports..</p>

<p>Maybe he could work on the school newspaper or yearbook? That would force him to talk to people he doesn't know as part of a job of sorts.</p>

<p>I agree the cross country team is a good way to meet kids. If he is willing to give it a try most cross country teams take any kid who is willing to come out and do the work.</p>

<p>Could he join the Debate club? Or Deca? (Something that is more interactive than once a month meetings)</p>

<p>Is it possible that your son has Asperger's? Just asking because my D (age 15) recently had a tentative diagnosis made, and she sounds similar socially to your son. We had always chalked some of her social difficulties up to being introverted, but now think there is something more to it. She does not exhibit all the symptoms, but enough that a psychiatrist who was doing some IQ testing for us recently commented that he thinks she probably does have it.</p>

<p>I know what you mean about being labeled with a "disorder", but there are a lot of resources and support available (even via books and online) that can help a lot if there really is something underlying this. And the label does not have to be widely discussed; there is no need to disclose on college apps, for instance, if he doesn't want to. I can also say that I think it actually helped my D to have a label to put on why she has some difficulties. She has really jumped on reading up on it on her own, and I see her starting to take some self advocacy steps on her own this month that would have been unimaginable a few months ago.</p>

<p>IntParent, what signs does your D exhibit? I doubt he has it, he just sounds so very much like me at that age plus the whole anxiety aspect that he also takes after me.</p>

<p>Didn't it make your daughter feel even more weird and different with this possible diagnosis??</p>

<p>You're certainly not the only parent in this situation. I was hoping high school would be better for my D, but it has been only slightly better. She has friends she talks to at school, online, on sports teams, but does not go out much on weekends with anybody. She says these friends all have their own groups, which she is not part of. She does debate, and talks to kids there during practice and tournaments, but not outside of that. If she plans an outing to a movie, other kids will attend, but she does not get invited to their parties. During spring sport season, there were some group activities after practice, so I am encouraging her to try to plan some more.</p>

<p>I have suggested she invite kids over, but she is afraid they will be bored. Also, we live in a modest home compared to her friends' much larger, luxurious ones and she is self-conscious. I was quiet in high school, and still have some self-esteem issues, so I know how she feels. She is quite busy much of the year, and really doesn't have a lot of free time, so this summer I will encourage her some more to 'take the bull by the horns' and plan some group activities.</p>

<p>It is hard to watch our kids have social anxieties. I worry about that more than their school work and grades. My S does not care about not having much of a group, he has his Xbox to keep him happy (another cause of worry for me!)</p>

<p>In my kid's experience, yearbook and newpaper clubs don't lead to social opportunities outside of school for the most part. </p>

<p>I have observed that clubs related to drama, theatre, band may lead to more friendships. Perhaps that has to do with the number of hours that students work together, but I am not sure. Even something like stage or lighting crew might be a good opportunity to explore.</p>

<p>Also are there some outside youth groups that he could look into. Does he play an instrument? Can he get a "rock band" started?</p>

<p>Emily, my D always knew she was somewhat different. I think this actually helped her realize that she is not the only one in the universe.</p>

<p>She has always been quite shy. Has a hard time with eye contact, and has a hard time "reading people". I used to say that she had to be taught social skills much the same way her sister needed to be taught math... with a lot of explanation and repetition. What is obvious to "the rest of us" is often NOT obvious to her. She often can't tell when she is making someone angry, or when someone is not following her conversation thread. </p>

<p>She is really reluctant to be around people she doesn't know well, I think because she is afraid she will make a mistake and misread things. Ordering in a restaurant, talking to a teacher about an assignment, or paying for an item in a store are quite difficult for her. While she has a small group of friends she enjoys being with, she really doesn't like parties with any more than her small group. Her older sister and I metioned the possibility of studying abroad in college recently, and she said "no way!". Also, when we go out with other people (say, for dinner at a restaurant with another family), she can go the whole meal without contributing one word to the conversation. But I do think she envies her sister, who is a "new friend in 5 minutes" sort of person. She would LIKE to be an extrovert.</p>

<p>Specific Asperger's symptoms she has:
- Eye contact issues
- Doesn't pick up on social cues
- Used to have a lot of trouble when her routine was disrupted (better now)
- Some deep, specific interests, used to get somewhat annoyed when other kids weren't as interested/couldn't delve as deeply as she could
- Has a pretty formal speaking style for her age
- She has never liked loud noises/loud places</p>

<p>Symptoms she does not have:
- Lack of empathy. She did seem to have this when younger, but seems to have "grown into" more empathy as she has gotten older.
- She is able to recognize sarcasm (a lot of Aspie kids can't)
- Doesn't have any unusual facial experessions or postures
- Doesn't really carry on too many one-sided conversations (maybe because she doesn't talk to much)
- Delayed motor skills. Although she was a very awkward runner (she was embarrassed about this, and studied it to learn to run more smoothly) and cannot throw/catch. But she has found a sport (volleyball) that she likes and has stuck with it.
- Repetitive motions (hand flapping, etc.). None of those.</p>

<p>I should add that she is very bright. A top 3 finisher in the Midwest Academic Talent search a couple of years ago, and headed to the Davidson Institute's summer program in Reno this year. Asperger's kids are often extremely capable intellectually.</p>

<p>Also, D's small group of friends (3 other girls) was formed back in late elementary/early middle school (K-12 school). If she were at a new high school this year, I am sure she would have almost no outside social life.</p>

<p>Activities that have worked well for her: writing club, quiz bowl, debate (surprise, since it is in front of a judge and requires a partner), volleyball, choir (but NO solos!), and helping with costumes for school plays/musicals.</p>

<p>Hi Emily!</p>

<p>I'm in college right now and, while I'm not the introverted kid your son might be, my best friend is. My friend is very shy, gets really anxious in big social settings, and can take awhile to open up. He's also from a really small town and is very smart, so he's always been placed on a pedestal for his intelligence (which he really liked--nice ego stroke--but also made him very self-conscious about it). </p>

<p>So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't have a ton of personal advice about how to deal with being really introverted, but I do know that there ARE people out there who want to be friends with your son and will really value him as a person and a buddy. I am living proof of that!</p>

<p>You might be wondering, "How does he start to make friends?" Here's how it worked for us. We had a very challenging class together last year and became acquaintances by studying together and preparing for tests/quizzes. Those study sessions eventually led to a little group of us getting together for dinner afterward or grabbing a cup of coffee after class. The more we got to know each other, the closer we became. He and I work really well together and this friendship has definitely been one of the crown jewels of my college experience.</p>

<p>I do realize, though, that his social habits are really different from mine. Sometimes we don't hang out, but so far that hasn't caused a problem for us. I know that he's uncomfortable in party situations, so if I want to do something loud/crazy/obnoxious/etc then we just choose another time to hang out. It works really well.</p>

<p>I definitely agree with the people who have said "start slow." I'd also encourage him to look for friends in various places: class? extracurriculars? jobs? parents' friends' kids? You also might want to suggest he do something fun outside of school, like others have suggested. And it would also be worthwhile for him to acknowledge that just because your friends aren't in your grade, doesn't mean they can't be your friends. I had many close friends in high school who were a year or two older or younger than me. It might not be the norm, but it works and it's fun too. Are there kids he'd like to be friends with in other grades? </p>

<p>Since he's close with his dad, would the two of them like to partner up with another father/son pair and do something they all enjoy? Perhaps your husband's friends have sons that yours would like to be friends with. Or could they join a sports league or something similar together? Maybe your son would be a lot more at ease, and have an easier time making friends, with his dad around to look out for him. </p>

<p>My last suggestion for him would be to make it a point to take his acquaintances up on their offers to hang out with him every so often. I bet you'd be surprised how often kids will say casual things like "Come to the pool with me" or "Wanna sit together at lunch?" or, upon running into each other at sporting events and the like, might invite him to sit with them. I know my shy/introverted friend used to turn those little offers down because he would think "We're not that good of friends, there's no way those kids really want to hang out with me, they're just being polite" Coming from one of "those kids" who make those offers: we are not just being polite! We want to hang out with you and get to know you! Let us! Most great friendships start as casual acquaintances. I know your son's shy and anxious in social settings so it's probably unreasonable to think that he'll miraculously become a social butterfly.</p>

<p>But I think if he starts slow, gets a little creative with finding friends, and says "yes" to random/spontaneous offers once in awhile, he'll be just fine.</p>

<p>Intparent, thank you sooooooo much for responding in such detail.</p>

<p>I've been reading your list and trying to see if my son has any of these traits.. and of course he does - just a few, like he may have a hard time keeping an eye contact especially with women sometimes who are not family.. is it the normal teenage clumsiness? hard to say.. he does have a strong interest in rock music but so does my husband..</p>

<p>i guess what i am trying to say is there is no really clear cut way to see whether it's shyness/introversion/anxiety or something else.. Did you daughter feel frustrated at not having many friends or was she ok with it? he seemed just fine until recently and i am still figuring out if "having friends" is part of the acceptance package where it somewhat guarantees that he won't be perceived as nerdy and weird if he has friends.. don't know.. </p>

<p>I will be having another conversation with him about all the various suggestions.</p>

<p>Unfortunately, he is not athletically or musically inclined (even though he likes listening to the music and i think he has a pretty deep appreciation of lyrics and at one point wanted to be become the music critic) plus now it's a vicious cycle for him where he just says "i am not good at this so why bother".. i think there are some low self-esteem issues mixed in here..</p>

<p>Thank you again immensely for your response.</p>

<p>Emily.</p>

<p>Agree that you should encourage your son to take advantage of any small social openings that occur. My D would, like Kristin's friend, probably say no because she would be afraid that they didn't mean it, that she was intruding in some way, etc. Or, as she said to me recently, "They don't want me to go if I don't talk at all." Her sister and I have been encouraging her to take invitations like that at face value and accept them.</p>

<p>Emily, just saw your additional questions. My D is mostly okay with her small group, but I think she would be unhappy (like your son) without them. We have just been lucky there, I think. I will say that her friends are also pretty nerdy :) I went to pick her up after a sleepover a couple of weeks ago, and they were playing chess... Another time after they coaxed my D to go to a school dance and we hosted a sleepover, I found them all reading upstairs when they were supposed to be changing clothes. And when I took them to our arboretum a few weeks ago, they walked around reciting Shakespeare. </p>

<p>Like your son & his dad, my D and I (I am a mom) have a VERY close relationship and do a lot of stuff together. When she is having a tough time, I try to spend some extra time (even if it is just reading to her), getting some tickets to something, etc. It does seem to help, even if it isn't time with social peers. I worry a lot about how/whether she will make friends at college. </p>

<p>It is concerning that your son is losing sleep over this, that could be a sign that he could use some professional help.</p>

<p>Kristin, you can not imagine how much I appreciate your response. Your friend sounds a lot like me and like my son.. actually, i don't think anybody is inviting him to any of the functions.</p>

<p>He used to have a very good group of 3 friends in 5th grade but then it just dissipated.. one boy moved back to India, the other one moved in a different direction and the third boy is still a friend but nothing is happening on the weekends with him.. </p>

<p>Thank you for your strategies and suggestions.. I will have my son read the responses and probably ask him to tell me what he feels comfortable with.. </p>

<p>If anybody else has any words of wisdom to share, I'd be very grateful.</p>

<p>Emily.</p>

<p>Emily, I definitely agree with intparent on this one. I bet out of all the random little social openings your son is offered, less than 1% are offered maliciously (that is, with the intent to make him feel awkward, or offered by bullies, etc). I absolutely guarantee you that there are kids out there who want to be friends with your son. All he has to do is find them, and that can be tricky. It's a painstaking process that takes a lot of time and patience. But if he sticks with it, he'll be very happy in the end. </p>

<p>I think he also might be surprised to learn how many kids go through similar things. Sure he might be extra introverted or shy, but even the most extroverted kids have trouble finding friends at times too. I specifically remember starting high school and wondering why I was having trouble making new friends. It really got me down and made me think that there was something wrong with me, which I realize now was not the case. I ended up rekindling some old friendships with my grade school friends and now absolutely cherish those. They're especially fun because we've all gone our separate ways now, so when we all get together it's cool to meet their new friends too.</p>

<p>Could your son rekindle that friendship that's faded? Maybe he and old friend could arrange it like they used to. For example, let's say they used to get together every afternoon and watch PowerRangers and eat cookies. Your son might try calling that friend and saying something like "Hey fill in the blank, remember how we used to watch that ridiculous TV show together? I found a bunch of old episodes (at blockbuster, on youtube, etc)--wanna come over and eat some Chips Ahoy like we did when we were ten?" They'll probably be laughing together (if for no other reason than PowerRangers is now super lame) in no time, and who knows, it might be enough to get the ball rolling on a new friendship for the two of them. Obviously it doesn't have to be TV and snacks. Maybe for them it was wiffle ball or fishing or playing tennis or beating MarioKart. But I think you get the idea. </p>

<p>So let's say he and old friend decide to hang out, they have a good time watching their old episodes or whatever, and then they end and neither knows what to do next. Instead of just ending the evening right there, have your son come up with a few backup plans so if they're having a good time he can have a go-to for what to do next. If it's an afternoon thing, the next logical step might be dinner--going out to a diner, making a pizza, whatever. If it's a nice day, maybe they'd want to wash a car or go to the pool or hang out outside. If it's a night, maybe they'd want to go catch a movie or something. The key is to have some ideas for what to do next. Chances are, if your son was having fun with old friend, old friend would probably like to continue hanging out with him. Your son might be painfully afraid of being rejected when he suggests something, but find a way for him to conquer that. Whatever his suggestion is, it doesn't have to be strange or extreme (which are perhaps more likely to be rejected)--just fun and low-key. After a day of hanging out and catching up, it makes sense to be a little hungry and want to grab a bite to eat, so making a dinner suggestion is perfectly reasonable and unlikely to be rejected. If he's really worried about it, he might try something like "Hey I'm kinda hungry, where do you think we should go eat?" This works nicely because it presupposes the answer (ie, old friend is unlikely to say "actually I don't want to go, I'd rather just go home) yet gives old friend some options. He'll probably say something like "yeah that sounds like a good idea, let's go to blah blah blah". This way your son gets to hang out with his friend and gets to avoid rejection twice: his idea won't be rejected, and since he's not the one suggesting a specific event, that can't be rejected either. </p>

<p>Sometimes you just have to be a little creative. I'll keep thinking :)</p>

<p>Yes, we definitely take the lead on offering to host activities for any budding friendships D has. Not too pushy - - for example, a freshman boy in D's class wasn't making friends readily, and his mom tried to throw a party for the whole class... that kind of backfired, it was too much and too obvious. But an invitation for his friend with "nothing happening on the weekends" could work out. Not sure where you live, but we would do something like offer to take them to the local science museum (that way they can kind of get away from the adults a bit by going off on their own among the exhibits :)), then go for pizza. Or maybe if your son & his past-friend like technology, get a kit for building a remote control car or something and invite the friend over to help build it. Or have a cookout (we would have a fire in our firepit with hot dogs, marshmallows, etc. -- teenagers love to build and poke around at fires!). We definitely offer to host sleepovers or dinners before dances more than we did with our older D, who was naturally very outgoing.</p>

<p>Try one invitation and see what happens. If no follow up from the other kid after they do something, try again in about a month with a different offer.</p>

<p>Also, you might want to see if your son wants to take some kind of musical lessons (drums or guitar). Might lead to being in a band with some other kids, since he likes music so much. Must admit, that is just the type of activity I would suggest to D that we do together (I am sort of the "training wheels" for new stuff) just to get her started - - so maybe your H would do it with him. Worst case, bonding activity for them. Best case, he ends up with an activity that lead to some new friends.</p>