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My 17 Year Old Has Great Difficulty Interacting

by Jenny Shepherd
(London)

My son is 17 years old. He lives with myself and his stepfather and his 13 year old brother. He visits his father every other weekend with his brother. He is currently at school studying for A levels.

My son finds it almost impossible to look anyone in the eye when speaking to them. He finds it very hard to communicate with both his peers and adults. He cannot speak to people on a one to one basis and always appears to be on the outside of any group.

Both myself and his father have spoken to him as he appears to be becoming increasingly isolated. I am at a loss as to how he can overcome this problem.

Where can I seek help for him?

Comments for My 17 Year Old Has Great Difficulty Interacting

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Withdrawn Teenager - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Jenny,
I am wondering if he as always had difficulty communicating, or is this a recent thing, has anything happened that he is struggling with, or any major changes in his life? Are there things going on in the family that he might be withdrawing from - our kids are often a really good barometer for other family issues.

It is hard when teenagers withdraw from us, and to some extent it is normal for a teen to be turning his attention to peers instead of his family, but it sounds from what you say he doesn't have friends either.

You didn't say how he feels about all this, is he unhappy, is he able to share how he feels? Does he interact with his brother - has this changed, has he become more withdrawn or is he expressing negative thoughts about his world?

Sometimes family are not the easiest to talk to and seeing someone else might be a good idea. The only thing is, if your son does not feel he has a problem, or is not unhappy, and it is you who think he needs to be more socially comfortable, then it will be hard to get him to see someone. But if he is acknowledging he would like better skills, or that there are things he is struggling with, then you can gently and supportively suggest he might find it easier to talk to someone neutral.

I don't know what is in your area, but his school should have some recommendations, and it would be helpful to get their perspective on how he is coping socially, and what might help. Another option would be to talk to the family doctor and see if they can recommend a counselor who works with teenagers.

Part Two Follows . . .

Withdrawn Teenager - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

We all communicate differently, and eye contact and good verbal communication skills may not be something he is comfortable with. If this is something he has always had, I would be wondering about some form of Autism - but I hesitate to label a child, and I think diagnosis and labels are only useful to help us find other ways of relating, or helping those children learn other skills to connect. And of course I could not possibly diagnose a child from an email, I am only mentioning it as something that might be worth pursuing.

Does he have interests or activities that he is involved in? Particularly if there are ways he can interact with others that is non-threatening and with a very low demand on him to have to communicate he might find it easier to find his fit. Many people find it easier to relate to animals - or through animals, also music is an excellent way of expression and a way of connecting.

The tricky thing is when we think something is "wrong" with our child, then we are putting energy into not accepting them, which feeds their sense of isolation and withdrawal. What he needs most of all, is acceptance and love, and gentle encouragement to participate with people more. But it may well be that he is happy in his own world, and it is just you that feels uncomfortable with his lack of interaction. It is a fine line between supporting a teenager to learn more skills, and being judgmental that they are not being successful in the ways we think they should.

However of course you need to keep communicating with him, and trying to draw him out and find out what he is thinking and feeling. Try to quietly interact with him in the areas he is interested, listen to his music, ask him a few questions, find out how he feels.

Teenage years can be a bit of a minefield, there are lots of hormonal changes which have a huge impact on their emotions, he maybe feeling different from his peers, and struggling to find like-minded friends, and of course sexuality comes to the fore. School carries a big workload at this age, and the pressure to succeed there can be overwhelming.

Finding services that are available in your area would be good even just in terms of you having someone to bounce your concerns with, and to find out what resources are available to support him if he is willing to see someone.

But most importantly, keep loving him and encouraging him and try not to pressure him to be someone he may not be. Keeping the lines of communication open means he can come to you for help or advice if he feels he needs it.

Feel free to add more comments, and I hope you find some local services that will support your family,

all the best,
Annie D :)




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