Q: How can I help my teen son choose friends who are good for him? He has ADD and has always struggled to fit in, and now that he’s at a new school, he’s choosing to hang out with people who are not really “friends.” He is not confident and will spend time with kids who belittle him or lie to him.
We moved last year, and his best friends are in other schools/states, so he’s starting over to some degree. He won’t participate in any sports or clubs. How can I help him choose to spend time with kids who like him for the kind and caring kid he is?
A: This is so hard, and I’m sorry. Watching our children struggle, especially regarding friendships, is brutal. I’ve been pondering how best to offer you support, and I’m really stuck on how you can help your son “choose friends who are good to him.” It’s not that this isn’t a worthwhile idea; he has attention-deficit disorder, he’s lost all of his friends in a move, and he’s resisting clubs and sports. Add in the pandemic, and you’ve got a mess.
Let’s start with the basics. You moved last year, so, if you haven’t yet, get your support team together, which means a good pediatrician, therapist and psychiatrist. I’m not saying you need all of these people all at once, but you want to ensure your son has been reassessed for his ADD, as well as his medication and/or therapy. This will give a needed snapshot of where your son is now.
You say he has always struggled to fit in, but he did find some best friends at his old school, so we know he is capable of making and keeping friends. I also suggest finding a way to see those friends in the near future, because a touch of the familiar can be a needed balm for the weary soul.
ADD or not, he isn’t the first teen to be attracted to bullies. Does he need support? Absolutely, but I would like to normalize that social problems are common for teens. For more social support, listen to Holly Blanc Moses’s “The Autism ADHD Podcast.” Recognizing what makes a good friend is a skill that can be taught, but first we want to understand his behavior. Remember: The most important need for a human is to belong. Your son, like it or not, feels as if he belongs to these mean friends, and although it may break your heart, know that people would often rather be bullied than ignored.
You also need to connect with adults who can safeguard him while he works on his social skills. Reach out to the school to find supportive adults who can be there for your son. The school psychologist and counselor should be made aware of your son and his needs, and look into getting an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504, if he doesn’t have one already.
I would also reach out to some teachers and ask for help. Of course, teachers are overworked and underpaid; we aren’t trying to add to their burdens. But most teachers are happy to keep an eye out for new students who need to find their footing, and they might not know they need to unless you tell about the situation. The adults just need to know.
While you are making this plan, know that doctors and experts agree that exercise, routines and rewards work well for teens with attention deficits. Although your teen may be understandably resistant to joining a sport or club, this is the time to problem-solve and sweeten the pot when he follows through. Surround him with order, direction and compassion, and do whatever you can to make this happen. If that means more tech time on the weekends as a reward, for instance, so be it. But don’t give up on him joining something, even outside of school.
As for these friends, make your home the hub of the action. Purchase the junky snacks and let them hang out, play games and watch movies. Listen for their dynamics, and understand what you’re hearing. Ask a partner or friend for their opinion, too. It’s not that I don’t believe what you say; you just want to make sure you have an accurate understanding of what is happening, so when you help your son, you’re working in reality, not fear.
There are skills coaches for your son and parent coaches for you; if you look, you can find resources everywhere. Start with doctors, therapists and psychiatrists, then move on from there. It may not be easy, but you can help your son find an emotionally safe lane where he can grow in confidence.
Find this on The Washington Post.
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