Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about my teenage daughter. She has always been a little shy, but had a group of friends throughout elementary school. She never really wanted to branch out of her group and didn’t make many new friends. She recently started high school and her friends seem to be branching out and making new friends, which is very normal in 9th grade.
My concern is that my daughter is still hesitant to make new friends and seems to want to hold onto her old friends. Even though this worked for her in the past, I’m afraid this will not continue to work for her because her friends may form new groups and she may get left behind. Also even if that does not happen, I think it’s healthy for her to try to make new friends and broaden her horizons. Even if she stays with her friend group for life, she needs to learn to meet new people and have a larger social group.
How can I get her to agree to start making new friends and broadening her social circle?
A Concerned Mother
Dear Concerned Mother,
Thank you for your question. Since I never met your daughter, answering this question can be difficult, but I will try to do my best. Is your daughter shy or is it more than that? Does she have a hard time making new friends? Your question seems to assume that she has made a choice to not make new friends, but maybe she has some social anxiety or some difficulty with making new friends? If this is not the case, then just keep encouraging your daughter to branch out and to invite new people over on Shabbos, even if it’s with her current friend group. You can tell her you will buy good nosh and that she can have a mini Shabbaton and invite a bunch of girls in the afternoon. Make an effort to make it special for your daughter, so she will be more motivated to do it. Even if you need to motivate her through buying her something she wants, push her to invite new friends over. This will allow her to branch out in a safe environment and hopefully the more she does this, the easier it will become for her. While she may feel very awkward the first time, she will feel better each time she tries.
On the other hand, if you think that your daughter has some social anxiety or some difficulties socially, it may be prudent to get her some professional help. Before getting help, see if you can talk to her about what is really going on. You can also try role playing with her and help her feel more confident socially if it seems like a more minor issue. However, it is always best to seek help before issues become bigger problems, so if you feel she can benefit from the professional help, please find a competent therapist who can build her up and help her feel more confident in her social abilities. She may also need some therapy directed towards her social anxiety (if she has this), so that you can help her overcome her anxiety and make friends more easily.
Regardless of the severity, your daughter appears scared to move beyond her friend group and seems to need some encouragement and confidence to do so. Try to build your daughter up as much as you can and validate how she is feeling. Give your daughter specific compliments to help her feel better about herself and stronger within herself. Building your daughter up will only help her, so this is an important step. Hatzlacha!