Q My son is 15 and is struggling with his friends. His best friend seems to have dumped him and decided my son isn't cool enough to be part of the group. They have all moved on and are not interested in him anymore and he won't accept it. He has great social skills and even plays lots of sport so I don't know what to do to help him. He is down in the dumps about it all but just refuses to talk to me.
David replies: That sounds like it must be really difficult for your son. I could imagine it feels horrible for him to lose his friends. If they have moved on from him, especially if it isn't clear to him why they have moved on, he may be grieving the loss of them, just as anyone may grieve the loss of a friend, whatever the circumstance that led us to no longer be able to continue the friendship.
If he feels that it was his own fault, for example, if he caused offence or betrayed a significant trust with his best friend, then he may have guilt on top of the sadness, or the feelings of just missing them. If the split has happened simply because one friend has turned everyone else against him, then he may feel that there is an injustice to the friendships ending.
So, while knowing the reason for the split isn't critical, it will be helpful for him to have a clearer sense of why the friends have moved on. Understanding the reason better may help him to process the feelings a bit more, since he can then work out which feelings are to do with loss and what might be about guilt, anger, injustice or whatever.
Most of us parents find it hard to hear that our teenager is troubled. Because we care so much about them, we often rush in to try to fix things. Many teenagers are reluctant to confide in their parents, not because they don't want to share their experiences and feelings, but because they end up with un-asked for advice. Perhaps, in your desire to help him, you have found yourself suggesting how to deal with the issue?
So, if you'd like to be able to really talk with him, focus more on just listening and showing him that you might understand how he feels. Empathy statements are the most effective way to demonstrate that understanding. Resist any desire to solve the problems he faces. He is more likely to come to those solutions in his own time, if he feels that you are emotionally supportive of him.
If you think he might need some guidance or direction to either re-establish those friendships, or to be able to process the feelings of loss such that he may be ready to make new friends or connections, then it might be more helpful to draft in someone outside your family whom your son respects and listens to, like a sports coach/mentor, teacher, or family friend.
With the different dynamic of that relationship, your son may be more willing to explore options (even listen to advice!) that might help him to get back on his feet after the sadness he seems to be feeling about these friendships breaking down.
Acceptance of the ending of the friendships can only come when he has worked out his feelings well enough, and that sometimes just takes time.