My almost-14 year old son is very mature for his age and has grown up a lot in the past year. He came home from the first day of school feeling very discouraged because a boy he’s been good friends with for about a year and a half (I’ll call him Robert) is in all his classes. This may sound like a dream come true for some kids, but here’s the problem: my son’s interests and tastes have changed and he wants to pursue new friendships but he’s a very kind-hearted boy and seriously non-assertive. He’s well liked, though, because he’s funny and easy to be with and there are several acquaintances that could develop into friendships outside school if he was more “available.”
Unfortunately Robert has no other friends and has become very needy, wanting to do everything with my son, is not interested in developing other friendships and gives my son a hard time when he spends time with other friends who go to a different school.
My son knows himself well, i.e. that having Robert around means he’ll fall back into a default position because it’s easier and because he dreads hurting his friend’s feelings. As a highly sensitive kid, he knows how terrible social rejection can be. Being proactive does not come naturally to him so he also knows that being in a position that forces him to seek out new companions is the only way it’s going to happen.
I understand his angst because I, too, have some social anxiety and found myself retreating to an easier position far too often, too, when I was his age, but I also know that the result is unsatisfying relationships and I don’t want this to happen to him. Have you got any tips/suggestions that he could try to get himself out of this social rut?
Signed, Concerned Mom
Robert's demand that your son ignore other friends is selfish and inappropriate. Your son (I'll call him Tom) should cultivate other normal friendships to develop his social skills. Tom needs to learn how to deal with a variety of personalities and this will also likely provide more opportunities for fun. If he allows himself to be dominated by Robert, he runs the risk of being labeled and shunned by other kids.
This is clearly a case of Robert putting peer pressure on your son to do something inappropriate that he would normally not choose for himself. Tom must find a way to resist this pressure and do what is in his own best interest.
That said, it is good that your son would prefer not to trample Robert's feelings. Tom may consider just hanging with Robert in part because that is the easy road, but it is also a sign of maturity. Tom is aware of the needs of another and is considering whether he should make a sacrifice to help a friend.
While it is good to be giving and supportive, sacrificing your son's social life on an ongoing basis is simply too much to ask, especially to support a social weakness that is not good for his friend either. Robert also needs to broaden his social horizons, to develop more confidence and skills. It would be one thing for Tom to ignore other people for a brief time while a friend is particularly needy (for example, making sure Robert is not alone at a school dance) but it is quite another matter for your son to give up his entire social life.
Your son doesn't want to hurt his friend's feelings, but does he realize Robert is (unwittingly) hurting him in a very real way?
Tom doesn't need to reject Robert, but he should reject his friend's possessiveness. Tom can continue to spend time with Robert and to let him know he is glad to be his friend, but he should also spend time with others. If Robert gives him a hard time, Tom must find the courage to stand up to him, to refuse to be bullied into a situation that is harmful to himself. If Robert comes to accept this, then all is well. Otherwise, your son must realize he has done all he can for his friend and should walk away.
All the best,
This question provides a nice change of pace. Recent Dismaying Stories have dealt almost exclusively with significant others. Those relationships are, of course, endlessly fascinating and I'm sure will continue to be our most frequent topic (so keep sending in those S.O. questions). It's also interesting, though, to talk about how we deal with all those other folks in our lives. So send me an email and ask about the challenges you have with parents, children, siblings, cousins, in-laws, neighbors, co-workers, friends, your doctor, your butcher, your baker or your candlestick maker ... you name it. Let's spice this site up and get working on a variety of relationships!