Q: My middle school daughter never wants to do anything with friends on the weekend. She says she'd rather stay home and be with us, her parents. She's always been kind of shy and quiet, but this worries me because I tend to be outgoing. Whenever I ask her if she'd like to have a friend over, she says no. She seems happy and says she likes school, and her grades are good. Should I be pushing her more?
A: Sometimes in an effort to avoid the social "drama" that accompanies adolescence, students may prefer to spend time away from it by being exclusively with their families. At a time when many adolescents isolate themselves from family, enjoy and celebrate these times when they occur.
At the same time, it is important to build friendships and learn how to navigate social situations as a part of development. During one of those close moments with your daughter, consider having an honest, casual conversation with her. Let her know that you want her to be healthy and happy and you wonder what makes her hold back from seeing friends outside of school. Has someone said something that has hurt her feelings? Has she felt embarrassment in class or in the halls because of some incident?
If things seem to be OK in these areas, suggest that she could become involved in a sport or activity that interests her. Ask her to name one person she would be interested in getting to know better. Help her to plan an event with that person. Some of the students that I see are unsure how to start the conversation that leads to hanging out on the weekend. If your daughter is avoiding asking someone over because she doesn't know how, you could roleplay the conversation with her.
You may also consider reaching out to your daughter's school counselor to check in on how she is doing socially while at school. The counselor can touch base with her teachers to get a feel for how she seems in class and in social situations like the hallways and lunch.
If your daughter becomes angry or defensive at the suggestion of having a friend over or if you notice changes in her with regard to sleeping or eating, personal hygiene, declining grades or general disregard for activities or items that used to interest her, that is the time to be more focused on solving whatever is bothering her. Again, reach out to the school counselor for advice and strategies.
Nothing is wrong with being shy. Perhaps other family members have a similar characteristic. As you say, her shyness seems to be in contrast with your personality. Not everyone is outgoing and comfortable being the center of attention, and that can be OK. However, we all need at least a few same-aged peers with whom to interact as our friends, and with your support, she will ultimately get there in time.
Anne-Marie Hughes is a local middle and high school guidance counselor. Her column appears the first Sunday of every month in The Sunday Gazette during the school year. Send questions to Ask The Counselor to firstname.lastname@example.org.