Unsociable Teenagers

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Mandy has been working in the mental health field for more than eight years and has worked with a diverse group of clients. These range ...Read More

What Are Social Skills

Social skills are abilities for effective communication and interaction with others. They matter because deficiencies can lead to difficulties in forming relationships, isolation, and challenges in professional and educational settings.

The impact of deficient social skills can be significant, affecting daily life and relationships profoundly. 


Is your teenager unsociable? Do they not seem bothered about seeing their peers out of school? There is no need to worry. Many parents ask me whether they should be concerned about their teenagers who seem to prefer their own company rather than going out with their friends. Parents who are sociable worry the most as they expect their offspring to be the same as them. Here is some advice on how to handle your unsociable teenager:

1) Assess Whether There is an Underlying Problem

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More often than not, teenagers that prefer the comfort of home to spending time with their peers are completely normal. If they truly seem happy at home and don’t appear motivated to be out socializing, it’s time to stop worrying. If however, they seem to be lacking in social skills and seem unable to converse with others, there could possibly be more going on here. There is also the possibility of being bullied at school. If they seem unable to read others emotionally and behave inappropriately in social settings, seeing a counselor might be beneficial. There may be nothing wrong and it could all be down to a developmental phase but I am just covering all the ‘bases’! It’s important to know the difference between an unsociable teenager that is struggling with social skills and one that just isn’t all that interested in socializing.

2) Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Make a habit of chatting to your teenager regularly. Find out what is happening at school and show an interest in what they enjoy doing. Being involved in your teenager’s development will enable you to be more aware of any issues that may crop up. It’s also important for teens to know that they can approach their parents if something is worrying them.

3) Be Non-Judgemental

Teenagers are going through all sorts of changes. They are not children anymore but not yet adults. Their hormones are all over the place and they are figuring out who they are. There is also huge peer pressure to fit in and not be different in any way or do anything that singles them out for humiliation or embarrassment. Be approachable and take the time to listen before coming to a conclusion. The more judgemental you are, the less likely your teens will be to confide in you. Be open minded and remind yourself that you were once a confused, untidy, secretive teenager.

4) Separate Your Issues from their Issues

I see so many parents who project their own paranoia, needs and wants onto their kids. They want them to be more like this or behave more like that. In a sense – this is sending a message that your children are not good enough as they are. That they need to change in order to be ‘acceptable’ to their parents. I have witnessed many parents berate their unsociable teenagers for “not being sociable enough” or “not being sporty enough” and instead of helping, this has only alienated their teens from them. Always act in the best interests of your children, not in your own best interests – there is a huge difference. If they are happy, leave them alone.

5) Foster Independence

Of course, there is that fine line between allowing your teenagers too much freedom which inhibits them from learning necessary life skills. Teens are notorious for being lazy, unmotivated and self centered. This type of behavior won’t get them very far in the ‘real world’. Teach them empathy and teach them to be considerate of others. Our job as parents is to create, as far as possible, a well balanced person that can go out and function in the big wide world. Think for themselves and make good choices. Respect your teenagers natural inclinations (shy vs sociable; calm vs anxious) but try to bring out the best in them by pushing their boundaries to help them learn and develop skills.

Modern technology allows for people to be far more sociable from home than ever before. Social media and online gaming via XBox or PlayStation mean more teenagers get to chat to others from the comfort of their own homes. Of course, everything should be in moderation but it’s worth mentioning that the opportunities for socializing are far greater now than ever before. The more we nurture our children and offer them choices and experiences in life, the easier it will be for them to know what they like and dislike. Work within their natural limits and never push your own issues onto them. Ask yourself what your motivation is behind wanting them to do something. Is it for their own good or is it to make yourself feel better? Respect the “raw materials” and work with what you have rather than trying to make a ‘square into a circle’. This way, you’ll end up with a grounded, balanced adult with their self esteem in tact!

When Professional Help Is Needed:

Professional counseling or therapy should be considered if you notice clear and persistent signs that your teenager is struggling beyond typical teenage issues. These indicators include:

  • Persistent Sadness or Depression: Continuous expressions of unhappiness or hopelessness, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, or ongoing lethargy that interferes with daily life.
  • Withdrawal: A significant reduction in interaction with family, friends, or participation in social activities they used to enjoy.
  • Behavioral Changes: Drastic and unexplained changes in behavior, mood swings, or a noticeable decline in academic performance.
  • Anxiety: Excessive worry, nervousness, or fear that disrupts their daily functioning.
  • Mentions of Self-harm or Suicidal Thoughts: Any talk of self-harm, suicide, or expressions of feeling worthless should prompt immediate action.

Approaching the Topic

When you believe professional help is necessary, approach the topic with sensitivity and support to ensure your teenager feels understood and not judged. Here are some guidelines:

  • Start with Empathy: Express your concerns gently, focusing on your observations of their behavior rather than making assumptions about their feelings.
  • Offer Unconditional Support: Let them know you’re there for them, regardless of what they’re going through, and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Describe Counseling Positively: Frame therapy as an opportunity for them to explore their feelings, learn coping strategies, and work towards feeling better with the support of a caring professional.
  • Involve Them in the Process: Encourage them to be part of the decision-making process, such as choosing a therapist or deciding on the type of therapy, to empower them and make them feel more in control.
  • Assure Privacy: Reassure them that their conversations with a therapist are confidential, helping them feel safe to open up.

By addressing mental health with openness, understanding, and proactive steps, you can help your teenager navigate their challenges with the right support and guidance.

Keep Reading By Author Mandy Kloppers
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