Dear David Coleman: My son has stopped meeting his friends over the summer
Q My son is 12 and will be going to secondary school this September. As the summer has been passing, he has become really withdrawn and hardly ever goes out to meet his friends.
If I try to talk to him about it, he gets really angry and snaps at me to leave him alone and that he's "fine". But I don't think he's fine. He is moody and grumpy and not doing any of the usual stuff he used to do every summer. I can't even get him to walk down to the hurling field even though I know his friends are all down there hanging around. How can I get through to him?
David replies: The best way to connect with him might be to try to put yourself into his shoes. He is right at the transitional age (and stage) where puberty may be kicking in for him or his friends. Adolescence itself may explain some of his moodiness and apparent withdrawal, but it may be that things have changed for him in his social circle, as he or his friends are maturing.
For example, there may have been a shifting in the social hierarchy as some of the boys he is friendly with try to position themselves for their arrival into secondary school. While the main social transition usually doesn't happen until school starts and lads may begin to make new friendships, he may feel that some of the lads have moved on (suddenly acting all grown up) or that he has moved on and they still want to act like kids. He may just not like what some of them are choosing to do.
If your son has a mobile phone, it is also possible he has increased his use of it significantly over the holidays. He may have found that he needs to do less physical socialising since he may consider that all of his important social contacts are online.
He will probably view his online life as something completely separate and private from you, and he may feel your efforts to keep him connected to his friends are unwarranted.
If you know his friends' parents, then you could also check things out with them to see if they have noticed any shifts in the friendships. Their insight might help you to be able to imagine what he is going through and show him that you might understand what it is like to be him.
Rather than giving him advice and telling him how to organise his summer, maybe you might connect better with him if you show you are just interested in listening to him in an uncritical and non-judgemental way. I think if you can show him that you 'get' that he might be in the middle of some big changes in life, it might free him up more to share what's actually going on for him.