How to Help a Teen Who Has Few (To No Friends) Now That School is in Full Swing

Drawn picture of kids talking about a girl that's left out in an article on how to help your teen when they have few or no friends.

Your teen has struggled with friendships over the years, but now the social isolation seems even worse. You watch him sulk around the house because there’s no one to hang out with, confide in, share secrets with, or laugh with. Watching your teen on the periphery, trailing behind other kids during social gatherings can be utterly heartbreaking.

Friendships are critical to a person’s mental health. In addition to companionship and entertainment, healthy friendships are the foundation for building independence.  

If you see your teen struggling to make friends or getting rejected by other kids, don’t hang back. There’s a lot you can do to help your teen build and practice the skills to make one or two really close friends. And that’s all anybody really needs.

Is this behavior a change? 

Around puberty, some kids develop social anxiety disorder – excessive worrying about what other people think of them. They often avoid social situations in which they fear they might embarrass themselves. 

A teen that is isolating from peers is different from one who is being bullied. With a rising number of young adults being diagnosed with mental health disorders, it is vital that parents are aware of the warning signs of mental health issues as their children mature. 

If your teen’s isolation and withdrawal from friends and social activities is a sudden change in behavior, it may be a sign of depression. If you are concerned, seek out an evaluation by a mental health professional. Social skills building will not work if depression is not treated first. 

If there’s no evidence of bullying or an emotional disorder, following are ways you can help.

Here are 9 Ways to Help Your Teen When they Have Few or No Friends To Turn Things Around

Learning how to form successful peer relationships is a critical skill that we all use – and — and refine — all our lives. Not everyone can be the leader, many kids are hesitant in social situations. 

There are several social skills everyone needs to succeed in life and to manage school, friends, projects and eventually the workplace. For instance, research shows that children need to be able to adapt to any social situation by first scanning the environment and then adjusting their behavior to meet the needs of the situation.

#1 Don’t jump in and “fix it”

Avoid the temptation to jump in and “fix” things, which sends the message that you are questioning your teen’s competency. Gently gaining your child’s trust is the best way to begin a conversation about a painful subject.

#2 Open up communication

Teens are notoriously difficult to converse with, but do your best to understand her social landscape. No matter what she says, empathize and try to stay calm. She might say, “This girl says cruel stuff to me in front of others, and no one stands up for me.” Summarize and repeat back her statements to allow her to interpret your summary, share more and clarify her thoughts. By trying to understand her perspective, you invite her to be comfortable opening up to you. 

One of the most important jobs of parenthood is to offer support. Let your teen know they can always talk to you about their concerns and that you want to be a source of comfort and encouragement in their life. Having a strong foundation of love and support at home can give your child the courage they might need to talk to a new classmate or start playing a new sport after school.

#3 Identify the root cause

In order to truly help address his loneliness, you must first determine what social skills are holding him back. Be sure to check your own biases before encouraging your teen to become more involved in activities. You may have been popular, but now you must honestly access what’s getting in the way of making friends. Ask yourself, “Can my teen make new friends? Could he join and collaborate with a group?” 

#4 Talk about friendship

Discuss what makes a good friend, how they choose friends and what their interests are and who else shares those interests. Ask your teen how a friend makes her feel. Does a particular friend make her feel valued?

#5 Talk about change and transitions

We’re usually surround ourselves by people who share our interests. A change in interests is no one’s fault. New sports, groups, social circles can often translate into new friendships. Your teen, or your teen’s friends, may choose to start new activities, which will probably translate into spending less time together. If your teen expresses feelings of abandonment, explain that people and interests change, and that its healthy for both her and her friend to pursue new things.

It’s okay to miss that friend, it’s just going to take a little more work to schedule seeing each other.  

#6 Get them involved in activities

Encourage your teen to become involved in a sport or other activity but don’t push too hard. When kids are already struggling, forcing them against their will isn’t a good way to gain cooperation, particularly with teens who are trying to become more independent. Instead, suggest three potential activities and together evaluate each one. It’s enough to find just one thing they like to do once a week. 

The goal is to both encourage socialization and to help them discover their interests. Everyone needs a place where they shine and it will give him something to look forward to. Plus, built-in structure can help reduce anxiety.

Help keep things going. If you have a car, offer to drive your child to social events and activities. Or let your child invite a friend on family outings.

#7 Praise their effort

Take every opportunity to praise your teen when you see them using friendship skills effectively. Reassure your child that you love them and that everyone struggles with something.

This will give your child the confidence to continue to use and perfect their social skills. And don’t stress if they don’t “believe” you, sometimes kids need to hear your praise over and over again. It’s good for their hearts, and their self-esteem.

#8 Model good behavior

Be sure to model how to pay attention to others and resolve conflicts calmly when talking to friends and family members. 

#9 Tell your child that you believe in them and they can do this

The most important thing is to keep communication flowing between you and your child without taking an authoritarian approach. 

Raising teens isn’t easy. Even the healthiest parents struggle from time to time. But when your child is struggling to make or keep friendships, it’s important to support your child with kindness, skills and direction. And of course love.

Please reach out if we can support you or your community with SEL, ADHD, neurodiversity or social spy skills for kids and adults alike.

Related Reading

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Learning How to Become a Social Spy So You Can Understand & Make Friends with Anyone

Learn To Meet New People Confidently!

Even if spending time with people drains you and you don’t feel like putting in the effort to attend an event, it’s important to find social skills activities that help recharge your energy and make you feel connected. For more suggestions on adult social skills development, check out our new product: Meet People with Confidence

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