Q: How Can I Help My Teen Form Solid Friendship Bonds?
There is little more heartbreaking to a parent than seeing their child feel friendless, unliked, or socially anxious. For girls with ADHD, this problem can snowball during the teen years, when social norms are changing and emotions are running high. Here’s how parents can help guide teens who feel left out.
Q: “My teenage daughter often feels left out and cannot maintain social bonds. She thinks people ignore her and she also often feels very jealous. Could it be that all of the other girls are actually being mean to her every day? We desperately want to help her develop strong friendships.” —AS
It can be quite difficult for girls with challenges like ADHD and anxiety to connect socially with their peers. The reasons for this are numerous — and complicated. For example, if she is distracted or anxious, your daughter may miss critical social cues, which puts her out of sync in conversations and in social dynamics. Or perhaps impulsivity leads her to say inappropriate things at inopportune times, again creating a sense that she is “odd” or out of sync. In addition, a hyper-sensitivity to being “wrong” or making mistakes can lead a teen to take things personally, or increase their tendency to interpret situations defensively.
You mention that your daughter has not been evaluated for or diagnosed with ADHD. From a distance, it’s difficult to know what condition (if any) is underlying her social difficulties — and therefore, it’s challenging to suggest effective approaches.
Before focusing on her specific social issues, then, it makes sense to step back and evaluate what is going on with her clinically. Does she have any undiagnosed learning issues that might impact the pragmatics of language, for example? Does she exhibit symptoms of ADHD? Anxiety? Take some time to explore what she might be struggling with more comprehensively; invest time and attention to deciphering her other symptoms through a full clinical evaluation.
There are a few ways to pursue an ADHD evaluation for your daughter. Start with your pediatrician — ask for an assessment or a referral (if that is not an area of specialty for your pediatrician). Since these behaviors could result from any number of conditions, you need a professional who will look at the big picture of your daughter’s psycho-social challenges, including any related hurdles with schoolwork. The National Resource Center on ADHD provides information on assessments, as well as referrals, and it has a hotline if you prefer to speak to a live human. (800-233-4050). Andy Gothard’s article on 9 Key Things to Know About Pscyho-Educational Evaluations is a straight-forward and simple guide. And of course, there are dozens of relevant articles on ADDitudeMag.com.
Both ADHD and anxiety (and in particular, social anxiety) will appear differently in girls than in boys, so I recommend reading Attention, Girls! by Dr. Patricia Quinn. For social skills, two great books are Good Friends Are Hard to Find by Fred Frankel and Raise Your Child’s Social IQ by Cathi Cohen.
Once you understand better what’s going on for your daughter, you’ll be able to define a course of action that can move her in the direction of improved self-confidence, self-esteem — and ultimately, social connection.
Also, keep in mind that, whatever the cause of her underlying challenges, she is experiencing a developmental delay in her social and emotional growth. It is typical for kids with ADHD and anxiety to seek out friends who are younger, and therefore a better match for them developmentally. You might consider pursuing activities that include kids of different ages. All it takes is one good connection for a child to practice and learn social skills. Instead of thinking in terms of forging many friendships, help identify ways for your daughter to cultivate one or two friends.
The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.