Dear Dr T.,
I am having trouble understanding what’s up with my tenth-grade daughter.
Let me give you some background. She was an extraverted child in an extraverted family. She loved all things social, although – in all honesty – she liked solitary activities as well. I never worried about her because she seemed so cheerful and well-liked.
Fast forward to high school, and I don’t recognize my child in the teen she has become. Instead of the social butterfly, she’s a bit more of a homebody. She loves her books, studies, and music. She also seems to enjoy spending lots of family time. This includes helping me in the kitchen and playing with her younger siblings.
I find it so odd that she doesn’t care to have much of a social life. She chose not to be in a school production (“It’s so boring!”) or to go to summer camp (“I need a break!”). On Shabbos, she will go out with a friend if a friend comes over, but does not initiate any visits. She talks some on the phone, but often says she is not a “phone person.”
The weird part is that she seems genuinely happy and upbeat – no crying, tantrums, or complaining. The teachers report that she does really well socially – hi-fiving everyone in the hall and sitting with her friends at lunch and recess. In fact, they describe her as really “into it.”
Do you think I should push her to go out more with her classmates? And, if yes, then why?
Though I am tempted to go with “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I have a hunch that there is a bit more to your question. I think you may be of the opinion that there is a right way to be a teen, a gold standard if you will – and wonder if your daughter falls short. Obviously, you don’t want to “mess with success,” but you don’t want to ignore an unhealthy pattern either.
But, here’s the thing: There is no one way to be in this world. There are many kinds of teens, and many different forms of success. Your daughter has chosen her own way. She is happy and not looking for change. She seems to have healthy interests, and reports indicate that she is doing just fine. Whether this is just a stage, or the beginning of a new pattern of behavior, is not clear at this point.
So who owns this problem – the parent or the child? You or your daughter? Well, since you are the one with qualms, not her, let me address my response to you.
As parents, we want the very best for our children – that they be happy, successful, and accepted by their peers. We want to see them as “one of the gang,” with all the studying, fun, and projects that teens typically enjoy. We see their special nature and talents. We project into the future and want to see our children develop those unique qualities. These are not selfish dreams on our part, but rather our fondest hopes for their future.
But here’s something for you to consider: Your daughter may – or may not – want to follow her star. She may choose to do the typical, or to take a less-travelled road. She may want to be a real camp kid, or the quintessential Bais Yaakov girl – or she may elect to do her own thing. Unless your daughter asks for your help, makes really bad decisions, or seems to be doing poorly, your role is to respect your daughter’s choices and support her in them. Though you may have envisioned a rah-rah girl, that is not who your child chooses to be at this point in her life.
I do want to add a disclaimer here that my response applies only if you believe that your child is truly doing okay and not hiding and/or displaying any unhealthy behaviors or symptoms. Certainly, it is worthwhile for parents to monitor and watch carefully for any changes in their child that call for reconsidering what’s going on.
The truth is that there are many ways to be happy and successful. There’s an art to letting go. Realize that if your child is doing reasonably well, you don’t get to decide how they do things. Rather, let’s work on ourselves to respect our children for who they are, what makes them tick, and for the everyday decisions that they make.
Hard as it is to admit, their way may not be our way. There simply is no prescribed way of being a child, teen, or adult. In addition, the reality is that a teen is just too old for parent intervention. So, while you may work behind the scenes in your younger child’s social life and orchestrate friendships and the like, a teen generally resents such maneuvers. As you can imagine, your teen will not take kindly to your manipulating any part of her environment – even for her benefit.
But, if you have reached the happy conclusion that there is no need for concern at this point, give it a rest. Enjoy your teen, be glad for her that she is happy, and leave it at that.
The Book Nook: The Fear Fix by Sarah Chana Radcliffe provides solutions for every child’s moments of worry, panic, and fear. The author writes about helping children cope with issues like imaginary fears, nighttime anxieties, and fears triggered by bad experiences. Of particular interest is the chapter on helping your child deal with the fear of emotional pain.
Sara Teichman, Psy D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Clinical Director of ETTA, L.A.’s largest Jewish agency for adults with special needs. To submit a question or comment, email DrT@jewishhomela.com.