Help Me Help Him
November 24, 2009 7:44 PM   Subscribe

A great kid. Uncomfortable in his own skin. Teen pressure. We've all been there. Help me help him.

He's at the gawky stage of life, uncomfortable with how he looks, not muscular like some of his friends, shy, reserved, unsure of himself and how he might ask a girl out.

Shuns social interaction, worries about what his friends think of him and why he's feels he's not "cool." In short, a kid living through the painful period of adolescence.

I am trying to help him by assuring him that we have all been there, he will get through it, that he has to find something that really interests him and that once he does his true light will shine through and others will find him interesting.

Good looking 15-year-old, good grades in school, tall, physically attractive and otherwise a fine kid. He just wants to be liked.

It pains me to see him suffer through this. I want to help but I know that he has to live it like everyone else. Please offer any suggestions.
posted by terrier319 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It might help to know your relationship to this kid.
posted by MadamM at 7:47 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

disavowing him of the illusion that being "cool" is worth anything would be the best, but that's something that only tends to come with age and experience.

developing new social circles, though, where the metrics for peer acceptance and enthusiasm are measured differently would be a great first step. are there any activities or interests that he has that could translate into new people-based experiences? something he's good at or interested in, currently, that would give him a way to meet and interact with people who aren't interested in "coolness", but in one's actual worth?
posted by radiosilents at 7:48 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Does he have more than one steady environment in which to flex his social muscles? I was a reject at school but a rock star at my after school job. Perhaps you can provide him with an additional environment that does not include any people he already knows.
posted by january at 7:52 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

How about flexing his actual muscles?

He might feel more confident if he worked out more, etc. I was shy and awkward at 15 and if I could give myself some advice it would have been to get in shape and build up some muscles. I guess that might not be possible for every kid, but it never hurts to try. Getting into a habit of physical fitness will be helpful for a lifetime.
posted by delmoi at 7:57 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

What activites is he involved with at school? It's possible that he just doesn't feel that comfortable with his group of friends anymore, and that's just making him feel awkward. Maybe he should try hanging out with more groups of people and get involved in different things. I'm pretty sure I read something that said you should have at least three different groups of friends.
posted by kylej at 8:13 PM on November 24, 2009

Just keep him talking. If he lets his guard down far enough, long enough, to actually express to an adult what his life is like, he'll actually about a hundred miles ahead of where he feels like he is, coping-wise.
posted by hermitosis at 8:22 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does he have any same-age cousins or sons/daughters of close family friends? Preferably ones that are outgoing, and would love to incorporate and champion this great kid into new social scenes; but any good-hearted person that is close in age but willing to accept him unconditionally will do.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:32 PM on November 24, 2009

What are his interests/hobbies? I completely shunned people and stayed away from social situations (I still do) but found rock climbing and have had a love affair with it for 17 years now. The only time I really feel comfortable and "myself" is when I'm out climbing.

You really can't TELL kids anything, it's something they have to figure out on their own. I know you are asking this very question, but helping guide him to that place where he feels comfortable is the best thing you can do. Don't ask him what he wants to do, he probably has no idea. Show him what you are passionate about. Let him inside your world to fully experience what makes you happy.

I agree with hermitosis. The more he can truly express his inner self, the more self-actualized he will become. I know way too many adults now that could have benefitted greatly from that.

Maybe you should start by showing him this thread and letting him see how much you care about him and that he's really not alone- people respond because they understand and have been there in some form or another- yes this is part of the human condition.
posted by TheBones at 8:40 PM on November 24, 2009

Seriously, have him watch Freaks and Geeks. Helped me so much during that stage.
posted by DeltaForce at 8:41 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

You seem to have the right attitude and you like him. The best thing you can do is to be a friendly supportive person. Make eye contact, listen to him, empathize with him. Let him take the conversation for as long as he wants [without you changing its direction]. In other words "Be Quiet, but be responsive." Give assurance. True, we've all been there. Don't take the "you think you've got problems, let me tell you about me...

Guide him toward making contact with others, with peers. Challenge him to find ways to help others, to be aware of others instead of so aware of his own pain. Find out what his personal goals are and urge him on. What can he do NOW towards those goals?

Keep yourself positive, let him know you understand and it's a painful phase of life [and there are others ahead], but he will make it and be able to look back and know he got through it. Passages. Look at that door, that goes from one room to another. Life is full of passages and we go from one reality to another - - did you notice the difference?

Using your Self as a tool in interaction and relationship with him can work miracles. Its the best tool you will ever have. Trust me.
posted by 77144 at 8:48 PM on November 24, 2009

Mostly it is being able to accept him as he is; pain and all. The fact that this does not make you pained or rejecting and are caring creates a difference inside him, another reality.
posted by 77144 at 8:53 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yep I was very similar at that age ... and there is nothing ... NOTHING ... an adult could say to change that, and in fact a few Aunts and my parents did try and I still cringe thinking about it.

What did help? Some of my peers giving me good feedback. Some girls taking a genuine interest. Being encouraged to be independant.
posted by Admira at 8:54 PM on November 24, 2009

these are all great suggestions. would anyone recommend sharing this thread with him or just talking to him about it?
posted by terrier319 at 9:12 PM on November 24, 2009

don't share this thread with him. He's already feeling bad enough about himself. But if he trusts you, sure toss out some of the ideas in this thread. But he doesn't need to know that some adult who knows him is asking strangers on the web how to help him be more comfortable in his skin.
posted by dfriedman at 9:25 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yeah my advice would be: definately don't share the thread with him. It will further weaken his self esteem rather than enhance it.
posted by Admira at 9:29 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't think it'll work if you try to help him. Meanwhile, you can be cool, be yourself, be comfortable in your own skin, and then create a welcoming environment he can come to (e.g., sit on the back porch every night watching the dogs). Be accepting and quietly confident in him, listen, ask him about what's going on if he wants to talk, keep him company and provide distraction, and occasionally drop a half-sentence of wisdom or reassurance ("did you ask her?" "nah, you just tripped, that's all").

It's like watching a kid learn to walk while keeping them away from the balcony. What you are doing is keeping your powder dry, so that you'll have access and credibility for those two instances over the next five years when you really want your opinion to carry some weight. The rest of the time, you have to sit back and let him make his own mistakes, give him a solid place to retreat to when that happens, and show confidence that he'll figure it out.
posted by salvia at 9:37 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Help him discover his inner cool guy. What are his interests? Help him get good at things. Learning to play guitar doesn't feel cool, but playing guitar is cool. Getting to where you want to be feels dorky, but it's worth it.
posted by theora55 at 9:41 PM on November 24, 2009

What's something awesome that his peer group isn't doing? There's something he can learn to be excellent at, and if he doesn't quite get to excellent, it will still add mysterious depth to his stock of experiences. With no competition, he can build some self-worth and explore some new ideas.

Teach him how to weld. Show him how to change a tire. Buy him a guitar from a pawnshop. Take him to a city that doesn't have a Disney franchise in it. Buy him a couple of flying lessons. Take him to get measured for a three-piece tailored suit. Have lunch with him in the finest restaurant in town. Teach him to cook what he ordered. Show him how to make a classic martini. Take him to band some migratory birds.

One day, someone beautiful will dilate their pupils to hear that he's done things that didn't involve a Wii or a lowest-common-denominator textbook supplied by the state.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:43 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was similar at that age. If someone had told me that within a few years I'd be happy and confident and outgoing, that I'd have girlfriends and they'd think I was good looking, that I would look back at the 'cool kids' and shudder to think of what my life would be like if I'd hung out with them... well, it wouldn't have made a difference, because I wouldn't have believed them. I'd heard, of course, that after high school things change and all that, but I still didn't quite believe it would happen to me. Not because of a lack of people in my life who cared about me, but simply because at that point was far easier to believe what I told myself than anything some concerned friend or relative said.

For example, at soccer training one night, we were all taking shots at goal and as I took my turn someone yelled out 'he'll never score', clearly implying that I'd be a virgin forever. And it genuinely worried me. I mean, what would I do when I was 30 and had never had a girlfriend and everyone would laugh at me all the time?

I think the only thing that would have helped is if someone had talked about themselves, and let me gently hope that a similar thing may happen to me. Compare 'you're awesome and fun, you'll get through it and your true light will shine' to 'I can't believe you're dealing with this so well! When I was 17, I was convinced that I was doomed to be loner forever, no friends, certainly no girlfriends, and never really find my place. Of course things worked out- it's not like real life is anything like high school- but it was so hard to believe it at the time'.

I guess that still sounds pretty forced, but I would definitely have preferred to listen to someone else's story than to have them try to tell me that everything's going to be alright (as I was sure that it wouldn't be).
posted by twirlypen at 10:50 PM on November 24, 2009

If you get a chance and it feels natural, talk to him about embarrassments and doubts you had when you were his age. Make it funny. You don't really even need to end your stories with "but now I'm over it" or anything like that; too heavy handed. Just hearing about embarrassments you might have had will help him he's not in a bubble. Self confidence and so on develop naturally and take time; just be supportive.
posted by Rinku at 12:46 AM on November 25, 2009

Good looking 15-year-old, good grades in school, tall, physically attractive and otherwise a fine kid. He just wants to be liked.

If he's a good-looking kid and he's tall, he's all set. It just takes a couple of years for the growth-part to settle in, usually in the face. Honestly, just being tall is an advantage in our society, but if he's good-looking to boot, he'll have all the attention he wants soon enough. Until then, he should concentrate on improving the self part so when his body is finished growing he'll have the whole package.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:11 AM on November 25, 2009

What types of things does this kid do for fun or to engage socially with other kids? Kids this age find comfort in numbers, so he's got to get out and do things with other kids, and he might need to be pushed into it by someone (you? parents? teacher?).

One group of kids in school who are generally smart, accepting of quirkiness and open-minded are the drama kids. Without knowing what he's into, you might want to get him to consider getting involved in the drama club at school. Or a sport like track? Intramural flag football? Part time job? These are all areas to think about.

Seconding the idea to perhaps share a story of your own, but bear in mind that kids at this age are usually completely (and it's normal) egocentric and think they've invented their complex feelings and that nobody can truly understand them. But do it anyway.

Also, bring it up once and then let it go; kids are usually hypersensitive when they know adults are thinking about them and will almost always misinterpret your concern for, "Why does he think there's something wrong with me??"
posted by dzaz at 2:37 AM on November 25, 2009

Also, teenagers take great comfort in My Life is Average. It's hilarious.
posted by dzaz at 2:55 AM on November 25, 2009

I would think that calling attention to it has got to make him feel much, much worse.

That's just me though.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:51 AM on November 25, 2009

FeistyFerret had some great advice in this post about talking with teenagers.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:31 AM on November 25, 2009

I teach high school; I know many of the creatures you speak of. I can definitely back what everyone else has said. Just hang out with him. Share some of your experiences. Reminisce a little. Be honest. Treat him like an adult. Even if he seems like he's not listening, he is. Teens appreciate objectivity and honesty, delivered in a low-key way, because it helps them gain some perspective. Right now this young man is convinced that he is the only member of his peer group who goes home every night feeling dumb, ugly, and dorky. He needs an example of someone who is quietly confident and disinterested in whether or not other, random people think he's "cool." He needs a glimpse of life outside of high school.
posted by SamanthaK at 8:43 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have him pick up the guitar.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 11:55 AM on November 26, 2009

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