Is this only child not social enough?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 28, 2009 06:00 AM

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It's one thing for parents of only children to worry; it's another if they start to micro-manage.

My 12-year-old daughter is about to enter 7th grade. She's always had plenty of friends and they genuinely seem to like her. The problem is that my daughter does all the inviting, they NEVER call first. Certainly it makes my daughter feel ignored or left out sometimes. My daughter is also an only child, so friend time is more important to her than it may be to her friends who have siblings. How do I encourage her to call her friends more often (which I think is part of the problem) and how can we change the situation so that her friends do start initiating the invitation? Generally, she does not worry about it and is still very happy to spend time with her parents, but I think it may be time to discuss this with her, or am I imagining that 12-year-old girls spend a lot of time with their friends? Or do they still at this age spend most time with their family? As parent of an only, I am unsure of that.

Thank you!

From: Elizabeth, Needham

Elizabeth, Count yer blessings and quit yer worrying!

Truly, I do think you are over-worrying this. Sure, 12-year-olds like to spend time with friends. But 12-year-olds, especially those without siblings, also like to spend time with mom and dad and by themselves. That's not a bad thing. At 12, kids do not need to be social butterflies.

Now here's the caveat: If she is unhappy; if she says she doesn't have enough friends, or she feels left out of activities; if she says no one calls her. But if it's just your concern (or your projection, or your projection), then back off.

Parents of only one (I'm in this demographic myself), tend to pay an undue amount of attention to a child's social status. That's fine as long as you don't cross the line and begin to micro-manage. Here's what it's OK to do: cultivate a sixth sense about how your child fits in to her social scene. You do that in a number of ways -- (1) by developing a relationship with teachers, letting them know she is an only child and, in particular, giving them permission to tell you if they think she's suffering socially in any way; (2) eyeballing how your child fits in to the social norms. Does she dress within the bell curve, or is she a little bit off, one way or the other. Some kids can be "off" and it doesn't matter a hoot. Others are off and don't recognize that it's a problem. (3) Talking to parents of her classmates. What TV shows are the friends tuned in to? What's hot on their radar screen? Those subjects tend to be social currency.

As far as encouraging her to call her friends, or encouraging her to do anything social....there is a limit to how much pushing you can do. Only children are very tuned in to their parents emotionally. If she senses that you are anxious about her socially, it can make her anxious: "Mom doesn't think I have enough friends. Maybe she's right. Maybe there's something wrong with me." Then you've got real problems.

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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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