Question: Our family had to move this past December, which meant new schools for our children. Our 14-year-old son previously went to a very small charter high school where the parents knew each other and he had really good friends.
Now he is in a very large high school, and he is having trouble adjusting. He really has not made any new friends and spends a lot of time alone.
I am trying to make connections with parents and am encouraging my son to get to know more kids. He is embarrassed, however, when I want to seek out another parent to try to help him make that connection.
He really wants to go back to his old school, but it is 30 miles away. Do you have suggestions to help our family?
Answer: Any kind of a move like this is difficult on everybody, but in particular, on a teenage kid, because kids live and breathe through the peer group.
If you are a person of faith and have found a church in this new area, I would find out if there are kids in that church who go to the same school. You can network through there.
All you need is one friend. It’s like selling your house. You only need one buyer. You don’t need 100.
If it means being observant in your new neighborhood and getting to know some of the neighbors or doing some networking yourself, all you need is one kid who has his head on straight who will call and say, “Hey, would you like to go with me to a ballgame on Saturday? My mom met your mom, and I’d like to meet you.”
Kids at the high school level are capable of doing that, but it doesn’t happen on its own. It gets parlayed behind the scenes from the adults.
If your son sees this as meddling, you may have to back off and let him figure it out.
Parents hate to see their kids miserable, but what you communicate to the kid is, “As rough as it is, I know you can handle it.”
That’s the message that needs to come through to a kid. Then if you keep your mouth quiet, there’s usually some opportunity for the kid to say something about what he is concerned about.
Often, these things work themselves out. I took one of my daughters to college and at the last minute she decided she didn’t want to go to school there. We had tears. We had pleading. “Please don’t leave me here.”
I cut her a deal. I said, “In two weeks, if you are still unhappy I will come back and fly home with you.”
Two weeks passed, and I called her. I said, “It’s been two weeks. Do you want me to come get you?”
Her response: “Dad, get serious.”
Sometimes you’ve got to let the little cubs get out of the den and face some of the rigors of life in the big forest.
Your son will find his way, with your help.
Dr. Kevin Leman is a Tucson psychologist and author of more than 30 best-selling books, including “Have a New Kid by Friday.” E-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo by Tom Spitz Photography.