Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Stay At Home Teen

Amazing though it seems, some teens actually prefer spending time with their parents. So who's complaining? The parents!!!! I have had a number of requests to address this issue from parents worried that their teen is using a "too much homework" excuse for avoiding the part of their life that feels overwhelming, stressful and beyond uncomfortable...their social and activity life. Parents say: "He has lost all enthusiasm for activities he did before" or from another parent:"my teen seems to feel so overwhelmed she won't go to school dances or activities, and won't have friends over to hang", and this parent says:"my teen uses academics to hide from social pressure. He says he has too much work to do on weekends, no time for other stuff. He loves hanging with adults, and seems to thrive on the attention they give him."

All of the kids described above are 8th and 9th graders. This can be such a painful and awkward transition time. Perhaps activities they have participated in the past were parent directed, as in I signed you up or soccer, or baseball, or dance, or piano, or whatever it is you wanted your kid to experience. Middle and High School is when the rubber meets the road. Kids find out that as they get older, coaches aren't so interested anymore in making sure everyone has a chance to play, now they just want to win. Maybe your teen has now realized that this is something he is just not good at, and everybody else sees that too. Sitting on the bench while everyone else plays away can be humiliating. But what you hear from your teen is, I hate this, it's so boring, I hate the coach, etc etc etc. So now what? As a parent it has been comforting knowing that there was practice or rehearsal, and your teen would be constructively busy after school, maybe even on weekends. Now there is an empty void. The days when your minivan used to be full of kids yammering on about the game as you carpooled is now an empty car. Your teen sits mute in the seat next to you, and you see an entire weekend unplanned, feeling guilty that you want to be with your friends hanging out without your teen. Can't he/she find something to do????

First of all, this is a short-term problem. Your teen has closed the chapter on the childhood part of his/her life, but hasn't quite figured out yet what the next chapter holds. He/she knows that they are supposed to want to be with other kids, hanging, fooling around, getting into trouble, but that just does not fit for them right now. They can't seem to settle on an activity/sport/passion that they feel competent and interested in, and  probably academics is something that gives them that same sense of purpose and structure. The only problem with that is it is isolating and lonely. Here are some suggestions. Summer programs. Get them away for the summer at a program that grabs their attention and focuses on a competence, computers, science, writing, whatever you see from your perspective that grabs them. They will make new friends, who share their interest, and potentially bridge the social gap. They may not be able to articulate this to you, but your powerful parent observation skills should be able to steer you in a direction. Remember this is not something you want them to be interested in but something they ARE interested in. OK so its only February. Often teens like this are too shy to get involved in something that they might actually like, and if you suggest something they will reject it out of hand for that reason alone. Sometimes its helpful to enlist the help of a guidance counselor or outside person on the down low. Perhaps you have a kid who is a closet artist. Maybe you can talk to the drama person and see whether they might go to your kid and say, "hey we really need help designing sets for the spring play, I heard you have some skills in painting, could you help us?"Maybe your teen is great with younger kids, and tutoring a neighborhood kid would help him/her feel good. Go to the neighbor and ask if they might call your teen and ask them for help. You get the gist. Think of yourself as a life coach. Youngish teens often don't know what it is they want to do and still need some help. But you have to be more subtle about helping them. You want to give them the feeling that they are in control, and competent. This is a moment in time. As teens become more secure in themselves and their developing identity they will be willing to take more risks. By junior year, most kids are finding those friends, those activities, and those passions that make them feel engaged and involved. Some kids learn to "walk" at 10 months, some at 13 or 14 months, either way they all learn to walk.


  1. Thank you. This is very helpful information.

  2. Yes it's certainly an interesting age when they're changing their interests almost as frequently as their underpants. Thanks for your tips and the assurance that this stage will pass!