The media has a tendency to depict teenagers as younger versions of hyper-social adults, intent on partying with huge circles of friends, but this isn't a clear picture of most adolescents. While most teens enjoy spending time with friends, children this age often run up against barriers that may prohibit friendship.
Teens May Suffer From Social Anxiety
Recent findings by researchers at Harvard University's McLean Hospital offer new insight into the drama of teens and social anxiety. A 2005 study published in "Developmental Neuroscience" by neuropsychologist Deborah Todd-Yurgelun, Ph.D., and her colleagues, found that as a teen's abstract-reasoning skills develop, her level of social anxiety increases -- meaning as a teen becomes more mentally mature, she becomes more attuned to negative social clues. If your teen seems to remain on the fringe, it may be that her fear of rejection is stronger than her desire to participate -- a classic symptom of social anxiety.
Teens with Asperger's Disorder Have Difficulty Forging Friendships
Teens who have Asperger's Disorder typically have a harder time making friends than teens who don't. A prime indicator of Asperger's is the inability to understand social clues. People with this condition may have difficulty making eye contact or may have a tendency to talk "at" others, instead of "with" them. Often they're mistaken as rude or argumentative. Sadly, teens with Asperger's usually have better relationships with family members, who are more willing to accommodate social challenges, than with people outside the family.
Isolated Teens May Have Fewer Friends
Teens who are isolated, either by geographic location or lack of opportunity, may have fewer friends than teens who frequent social circles. Living too far away from peers, having a too-strict curfew or lack of involvement in after-school organizations and activities can have a direct impact on the number of close friends a teen can call his own. Teens who have little or no access to the Internet and social media tools may also face more obstacles than teens who are regular users.
Helping Teens Connect
If you're worried about the small number -- if that -- of friends your teen has, talk with him. Find out if he feels sad about the situation or if he's perfectly happy with things the way they are. Some kids are simply content not being at the center of a social whirlwind. If your teen expresses an interest in having more friends, offer opportunities for him to connect with peers outside of school or re-evaluate the restrictions you've put in place as parents. If you suspect your teen may be suffering from a form of undiagnosed autism, seek information from your family doctor and the local autism chapter.
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