Q: “My son is in 8th grade and seems happy with his social life. He has kids he likes at school; he has his baseball team, and he is in a rock band. However, outside of these structured settings, he does not have any interest in socializing. We have been gently encouraging him to hang out with kids outside of school, but he is happy playing, listening to music, and doing other projects at home with very little social interaction. I’m worried that he will be a freshman in high school with no good friends. He is not worried at all – or so he says. What should I do? He doesn’t play video games, so that is not a route for him to engage with other kids.” – BayAreaMom
Your question really resonated with me as I hear this a lot from my parent coaching clients. They are unsure if they should be doing more to encourage more social interactions or step back and let their children lead the way. Not easy, I know.
I actually re-read your question several times and what stood out to me immediately was your description of your son as happy! And as his mom, I firmly believe you would have your antenna up immediately if you sensed he was struggling to fit in, truly unhappy, or feeling lonely or left out. If that is not the case, then my advice is to give him space; take a step back so he can step up when he’s ready.
However, I feel it’s important for you to understand what might be getting in his way. Your son’s behavior is very normal. Children with ADHD and executive functioning challenges often prefer to participate and socialize through structured activities. Why? Because skills like planning, initiating, and decision making, which are needed for unstructured activities, may be lacking or immature in teens with ADHD. And activities such as sports, theater, clubs and yes, even rock bands, “do all that challenging work for them.” Structured activities all have one thing in common: a purpose and a roadmap to follow. Very few decisions must be made. In other words, they help to lighten the cognitive load.
In addition, your son might have a hard time processing conversations and sustaining the effort needed to keep up. I see this a lot with my student coaching clients. They find organic conversation difficult, miss words, or have trouble finding the right ones when they have to be spontaneous.
Also, it’s likely that after navigating a busy week filled with school, homework, and after-school activities, your son has run down his mental battery. He’s depleted. And he craves his alone time to recharge and refuel. When you’re feeling exhausted, thinking about doing one more thing is just overwhelming… and exhausting! I know I feel that way.
So embrace the fact that your son knows how to self-manage his needs as well as nurture his talents and interests. He’s getting a heavy dose of socialization at school and the activities he’s participating in. Continue to support and encourage his interests without pressuring him unnecessarily. He’ll grow into the next phase of his social life as soon as he is ready.
ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.
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Updated on March 22, 2021