Health Care Dialogue
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD
August 24, 2012
Dear Dr. Hwang:
“My child is heading into junior high school. She is shy and is having a difficult time making friends. What can I do as my child’s parent to help her take more initiative to make friends her age?”
Your question is very common. Adolescent teenage girls whom are particularly shy may benefit from building interpersonal communication skills as one way of developing healthy peer relationships. Communication skills take time to evolve and are especially challenging in junior high when there are many other distractions as well.
Opening up lines of communication at home also important. Help your child to build confidence in family relationships and the communities in which they may already feel comfortable. Contexts like these may provide a place of practice where your child can try a variety of ways of communicating and still feel included and not judged by others. Then, encourage your child to talk about potential relationships that they desire to seek out. It’s possible to ask your daughter questions to help her understand ways in which she might be comfortable connecting with peers her own age. Keep in mind that some of ways your child may desire to connect may elude you given the cohort effect, which indicates that generationally, each generational group has established different norms of ways to communicate.
Help your daughter to understand that pursuing relationships is important and will likely take time. One way to increase opportunities that your child will meet someone that she may make friends similar to her is to enroll her into a sport or activity in which she shares like interests and values.
Too often, the business of school does not always allow for adolescents to form the type of cohesive bonds, which is what’s needed in order to experience true and authentic friendships. Since your child is shy, you may want to brainstorm reasonable ideas and goals. You may also consider facilitating situations in which she does not have to do all of the initiating with others at first or until she builds more esteem and confidence.
Even though some girls are shy, they still want to feel included and a part of a group. Shyness on a continuum can create feelings of anxiety and momentary exhaustion when initially building new friendships. Communicate that it is normal for friendships to go through times where kids feel more connected.
Finally, given the world of instant technology where most adolescents are forming relationships via Internet, techno-based options, begin to instill values about internet use that fit for you and your family. Do not assume that your adolescent daughter understands what the rules are for communicating via Face Book, electronic mail or by text.
At this age, it’s okay to be explicit, firm, fair and inclusive of her ideas. Values about what you want communication with her friends to look like are best clearly communicated. Most importantly, encourage your daughter to share with you her experiences related to her friendships, which may be vague at best. Over reacting may likely create distance and hiding, whereas listening and calm conversations most often facilitate a more open and honest exchange of information.
Remember, as a parent it is obviously your prerogative to set limits and encourage ongoing communication about your daughter’s friendships. But, if you want to know what’s really going on in your adolescent daughter’s life, being a healthy, strong and engaged parent is critical to helping them seek out friends and guide them towards important relationships. Encouragement, support, understanding, guidance and engagement are definitely helpful ways to facilitate a process in which your child can not only discover friendships, but become her own friend as well.