How can my teenage son improve his dating/friend making skills?
February 16, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

How can my teenage son improve his dating/friend making skills?

My 17 year old son is a wonderful kid - gifted academically, talented musically, good looking, and knows how to work. He's struggling to make friends, although he has a few pals he occasionally spends time with. I know he would like to start dating girls, but is very uncomfortable asking girls out. What steps can I encourage him to take?
posted by hick57 to Human Relations (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
With all due respect, speaking as someone who was a teenage boy myself not that long ago, there's (probably) nothing you can do or say that won't be intensely embarrassing for him and counterproductive to your aims. I was incredibly awkward and uncomfortable with asking girls out at his age, and eventually I figured it all out, but it was through watching my peers, reading good advice online that I'd sought out on my own, and generally increased maturity/confidence - the idea of my parents saying or doing anything about it would have been absolutely horrifying, and in fact just thinking about the idea now, years later, makes my skin crawl.

I know you mean well, but this is one of those times when your role as a parent recedes and he takes over, for better and worse, as an adult.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:36 AM on February 16, 2012 [27 favorites]

How do you know? Did he specifically tell you, "hey, parent, I would like to start dating girls, please give me your advice?" Because when I was a teenager, I would have really liked to start dating boys (which happened around 17, some kids just take more time than others to come into their own), but if either of my parents had tried to "help" me, I would have died ten thousand times of embarrassment and feeling like even my parents knew I was lame and uncool.

But it couldn't hurt to hand him 30 bucks and tell him to take a friend to the movies on Friday.
posted by phunniemee at 11:37 AM on February 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

the best thing he can do is age five years.

but seriously ... if you have a shared computer maybe you can put a file on the desktop with some links to good online advice/essays/whatever and maybe he'll look at it.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:39 AM on February 16, 2012

I was him.

What I wish I knew back then is that IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF YOU, and all this social hierarchy is just fictitious, for the most part.

I wish I could have looked at asking girls out like looking for a job. Ask around a lot and eventually you'll hit (not in any literal sense).

But I also despair of any chance of imparting that knowlege into a teenage mind.
posted by Danf at 11:40 AM on February 16, 2012

As someone who loosely fit your description of your son, minus the good-looking part ... what I wish my parents had been able to convince me of was that the girls I was afraid to ask out had many of the same insecurities that I had, and some other insecurities I knew nothing about. I wish I had believed my mom when she told me that it wasn't the end of the world to get rejected, and that I had understood that there wasn't some objective equation where I had to be more attractive than a a girl for her to say yes to me, that there are all kinds of people with all kinds of 'types,' and that if I just asked girls out, I might be surprised at the answer.
posted by troywestfield at 11:41 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am 24. When I was 17 I didnt know anyone who asked girls out on dates, relationships just evolved out of group situations and friendships developing into something romantic. He will probably figure it out on his own, just needs to meet the right lady.
posted by Bengston at 11:42 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a girl, and I was very shy and had trouble making friends in high school. My parents were well-meaning, but ultimately, their encouragement just made me feel kinda bad.

I'm a senior in college now, and much more outgoing and social than I ever was in high school. It just took time.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:42 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I, like previous commenters, doubt if there's much you can do. But you can give him space to do things himself. The first one that comes to mind is encourage him (but don't force it!) to find a group of people who share an interest of his. What does he like to do? I'm sure there are other people in your area who also like that thing.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:43 AM on February 16, 2012

Whatever you do, NO NOT take cupcake1337's advice (not a personal attack, apologies).

You should either do "nothing" as most are suggesting (other than offering your support as a parent), or you should be up front about this.

Putting myself in the mindset of a teenager again, the only thing worse than my parents trying to "help" me make friends or get dates would be if they went about it surreptiously. Leaving some "hints" or somesuch around, that he will obviously know came directly from you, will just make him freak out and be paranoid about how much of his life you're really looking into/attempting to influence.

At least if you confront him and say something like "I'd like to give you some advice on women," or whatever, he'll know where you stand.
posted by Patbon at 11:44 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's cool that you care but I don't think you should do more than that :) Your kid will figure it out by himself, especially since he's into music and excels academically, etc.

Unless, of course, this isn't about friends and girls but him having social anxiety or something related which, IMHO, makes it ok for you to get involved. Because this sort of stuff can and should be treated (and I'm not talking about introverts here, but people who suffer from not being socially functional).
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:46 AM on February 16, 2012

Spend time with him yourself. Observe his world, make him feel like good company.

You aren't going to be able to help him relate to girls his own age, don't even try. He knows them better than you do. There's a certain point in all of us where our loneliness or attraction finally eclipses our fear of embarrassment, and he will have to find that moment on his own. You can't make the grass grow any faster by pulling on it.
posted by hermitosis at 11:48 AM on February 16, 2012 [13 favorites]

Related to your question, I disagree a bit with folks who say, "don't say anything." I think this is exactly the time that you can give your kid some valuable information for the future. You can model healthy relationship skills with people in your life (obviously I do not know if you have a sweetie or multiple sweeties, etc) and talk about contemporary issues (for example, Chris Brown/Rhianna, and asking what he thinks). Many young folks are not raised with good relationship role models and the media and schools certainly do not generally do the best job at providing this for young (or older folks). Love is Respect is a useful website/campaign. Start Strong is a resource for parents to visit and use before kid start dating. Let him figure out when/who to date, but prepare him so that he can be a strong and good partner to other people and to himself.
posted by anya32 at 11:52 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with most of the advice here, but I think some subterfuge could work as well. You could say "Son, I think you need to pad your resume and so I insist that you join XYZ club." Then he can bitch and moan about not wanting to, but you can say it builds character, or whatever. And he'll meet other people and spend time with peers. That's pretty much all you can ask for at that age.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:54 AM on February 16, 2012

I strongly agree with DanF. I also think that even well-intentioned advice from adults that is based on hard-earned experience generally falls on deaf ears with teenagers. It sure did on mine.

The coolest guy in my high school was not the most popular or the best looking. He was the guy we jokingly called the 1000-year-old man. Partly because he actually did look old, but more because he had a level of maturity that just placed him outside the social fray of giving a damn about trivial high school bullshit.

The bright side is that he'll be out of high school in a year or so. I had a friend in junior high who chose to go to a distant boarding school for high school, mostly because he was even more miserable with the social situation at our school than I was. I gave him this piece of advice: "Robert, where you're going, nobody knows you. Nobody knows you're the awkward geek. So you can be the person you want to be with these people." Years later, he told me that had been useful advice, that he acted on it, and it worked. I don't know if your son can apply that principle in mid-stream with the people around him now, but even if not, he doesn't need to wait long. I waited until college to act on my own advice, and it did work for me there.
posted by adamrice at 11:57 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The last thing he needs is his parent telling him, "there is something wrong with you because you're not dating women. Here's how to fix it."

The best help I think you could give him is get him involved in various extracurriculars/clubs where he'd be "doing" stuff more often. If he's already doing that, then he's fine.

Or even play to his strengths-- if he's a hard worker, gets good grades, and does well at music, push him to concentrate on academics and music.
posted by deanc at 12:00 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

nthing what Tommorowful said. You are well meaning and that's great, but unless he comes to you for advice: Avoid, avoid, avoid.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:02 PM on February 16, 2012

What steps can I encourage him to take?

Give him access to sports, exercise and team-based activities. Give him good food. Give him grooming advice, materials and tips. Give him good clothes -- and specifically, the kind that he wants to wear. If you're near natural attractions (a city area, an amusement park, a beach), make sure he can get there and have fun there.

Give him a car, or reliable access to one.

Make sure his home life is safe, secure and confidence-building.

And don't EVER mention doing ANY of this in the context of "dating." This is just basic parenting.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:06 PM on February 16, 2012 [13 favorites]

Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic book.
It has a cheesy title. But it is easy to read, and full of things that will help him.
posted by Flood at 12:09 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dale Carnegie is a business-power book. It could be offered to him in the context of becoming a professional and maximizing his leadership abilities.
posted by Flood at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the best thing you can do is not make it an issue and let him come to dating on his own. I had my first relationship at 25 and no permanent scars here. There's a lot more to being a teenager than dating.
posted by gpoint at 12:37 PM on February 16, 2012

I just passed my copy of "How To Win Friends..." on to my 17 year old son last week. I did it in the guise of job interviews, internship type situations though. I disagree that the Carnegie book is a business book. It's a relationship book, equally applicable for communicating with a cheerleader, or a CEO.
posted by COD at 12:39 PM on February 16, 2012

I may be off base, but lead by example and model the appropriate behavior! You may think you are, but I bet you aren't modeling the behavior nearly well enough. A lot of this might be ingrained over the many years of growing up.

In terms of dating are you affectionate enough with your significant other? Is sex and physical intimacy a taboo subject that is rarely talked about in your household? Does your son have a medical condition (ie: sweaty hands from hyperhidrosis, excessive blushing, etc.). I think all these things over the years can create a huge sense of shyness with girls and dating. My parents never really brought it up, other than rarely asking "are you going to the school dance" or some such thing.

Do you bring enough of your friends to the house or hang out with them? Does this happen only rarely or enough that your kids can see you modeling good behavior? I had enough friends in high school, but part of the problem for me was taking the initiative to call them up and actually schedule activities and hang out. In fact I still have this problem. Also, even though my parents were nice and everything, I almost never brought friends over to my house. Maybe because they were "too friendly and a bit over the top" rather than being "cool yet accommodating with food/drinks."
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 12:44 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, I was your son: exactly. 100-flippin'-percent your son.

The two things my parents did which were horrible were:

1) My dad teased me about it. He even tried to talk my sister's friends into sleeping with me just to make sure I wasn't gay.

2) My mom cried every night over it. Don't do this!

I didn't go on my first date until I was 23 (heck, most of my friends were married by 23), and I turned out perfectly okay.

So, don't worry about his dating life. He will figure it out!

P.S. He wouldn't want to actually go out with the girls he thinks he wants to go out with now anyway...but he won't believe me until he's in his later 20s.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

... a wonderful kid - gifted academically, talented musically, good looking, and knows how to work...

Chances are, he's got high expectations of himself, and you're setting high expectations for him, too. Social stuff isn't easy, and being academic and musical is more of a curse than a blessing in a lot of situations.
When Danf compared getting a date to applying for jobs, he thought that was making it sound easy - just keep asking, and someone's bound to say yes - but for an overachieving kid, that's the kiss of death: think of how many failure events must unfold! If he's not used to failure, the preferred route is to avoid it entirely. Your job, then, is to make any such failure seem as unimportant as possible. Telling him he's handsome and charming just ups the pressure and makes it even worse.
posted by aimedwander at 12:51 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, is it possible that "the most interesting girl in class" is in fact not actually so interesting? Every high schooler has a list in order of preference, so defacto he has a girl he likes. But it's quite possible that the real #1 on that list is "somebody I haven't met yet" even if he barely realizes it, so he doesn't like the one girl enough to take the risk of asking, yet doesn't like anybody else more, so thinks he'll never date because he's too shy.
posted by aimedwander at 1:01 PM on February 16, 2012

Being awkward at this age sucks. As a late bloomer I am fully qualified to say this. When everyone around you seems to be dating and having sex and there is a clear cultural expectation that high school is the time you're supposed to do this, you feel like you're a failure, and you're reminded of it daily. Offering him advice sends the message that you have noticed he is failing at this, and that it is bothering you, which means he is failing you and not just himself, so there is one more voice in his head to tell him he's no good the next time he chickens out with a girl.

My dad is a psychologist so you would think he would be good at this whole parenting thing (and usually was) but even he couldn't help offering advice, in the form of a book on seduction that he bought for me, which was a profoundly negative interaction all around and best quickly forgotten.

It took me a long time to believe that anyone could like me and that I could be happy and have genuine friends and be in relationships. Years, well into my 20's. A lot went into it but in a nutshell, for various reasons, I always had an impulse to keep a low profile and fade into the background and was scared to make myself vulnerable in any way. Until I got over this I don't think I was really ready to date. There is a root cause beneath your son's friendship and dating difficulties, guaranteed, and he will need to work through it. If he comes to you for help, find him the help he needs. But in the mean time do your best not to be another voice of criticism and failure in his head. Love him and support him. He'll get there when he's ready.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:36 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

make it easy for him to have a social life - can he use the car? does he have some money to spend? could he invite friends over to hang out and watch movies or play videogames? if the waether's nice, help him host a BBQ
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was also a late bloomer, and was painfully shy around women I had a romantic attraction to (and you are sure it's women he likes? It doesn't matter, of course, but it would be extra-awkward if you were constantly like "dude, that is one hot babe!" and he's not into women).

The biggest thing that would have helped me, I think, would have been a relaxed, cool, non-pressure home life. My parents constantly moved, which meant I rarely knew anyone very well (though I formed friends easily), and they were super-strict and frankly way OTT about minor transgressions. (Frankly, my mom was nuts, and 20 years later I still need to work on it, despite our getting along OK now.) There's no way in the world I would have brought a date home to meet her. Don't be like that.

I don't think I would have believed my parents if they told me the following, but I would have believed another trusted adult--is there someone in his life like that? The things I really would have liked to known then: Women are first-and-foremost people, not magical creatures; good sex by yourself is way better than bad sex with someone else; and everything you've seen in a Hollywood movie or on TV about relationships is just wrong, especially the part where if she turns you down you should just keep doing stalkery things for months and months and eventually you'll win her.
posted by maxwelton at 3:21 PM on February 16, 2012

I may get in trouble for this, but I'd buy him a copy of Neil Strauss' The Game. (*ducks*)

I'm not saying he should read this, score with some chicks and --voila!-- Happiness!

What I am saying is that The Game has a great deal to show the reader how to simply engage people's attention and turn off self-consciousness (and perhaps just as importantly, turn on self-awareness). A good deal of the book is simply the story of how a pasty, balding nebbish gained the confidence to just go out there, talk to anyone about anything, and get others to open up. This stuff applies to making inroads with both men and women, in a pick-up setting or just trying to make a good impression. If nothing else, it's an enjoyable read.

Also nth-ing Dale Carnegie.
posted by holterbarbour at 3:44 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the most important thing is something only one or two people have mentioned -- a car.

He needs to have a car to have the independence to be able to date.

Further, if he is forced to take the responsibility of maintaining and paying for gas/insurance for the car, he will become more mature. If the way he can pay for it is by getting a job, such a job will put him "out there" more. He will meet more people, he will become more self-confident, and he will become more independent, all of which leads to dating opportunities.


TL;DR: Buy him a very cheap car. Force him to pay for gas/insurance.
posted by lewedswiver at 4:10 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was shy in high school, and while I had a couple good friends, I wasn't really that social. My mom would constantly encourage me to do things like go to the dances at the local YMCA (ugh) or "stop hiding in my room". That didn't work.

Looking back, I do wish I had gotten more involved in activities I liked- dance classes, going to poetry readings, something like that. What might have helped is if my mom and talked to me as a friend to found out what my interests really were...and then let me know if there were events related to those interests. However I can't guarantee that I would have gone out even then. Sometimes as a teenager I just really wanted to be in my room, listening to music, and making collages....teenage years are weird like that.
posted by bearette at 8:33 PM on February 16, 2012

2nd ing "the game" and ducking in unison. but with a caveat. i wish i'd had access to the mere concept that "how to get dates" was something that could be figured out and worked on, if that sort of thing is not going well for you. on the other hand, i could easily see receiving such a book out of the blue from the rents being absolutely mortifying at that age.

why not float the question casually some time, in a low pressure situation - say over dinner if your family has lots of easygoing conversations over food?

"hey, , how's the love life these days?"

answer a) "ewwww! dad! jeeze, wtf!"

response: "hey, sorry i asked!"

answer b) "eh, not that great. i totally like this one girl, but i don't think she knows i exist" (or some other answer that suggests he's not horrified to discuss this subject with you)

response: "huh. yeah, dating, what a complicated mess that can be. i heard there's this book called "the game" where this guy totally figures all that stuff out and writes a novel about it. you heard of it? someone told me it was a pretty interesting read." if it's something he'd be into, he'll track down a copy himself.

"the game" and the whole concept of guys going from geek-to-cassanova via a how-to guide really riles some people up, and i sort of get why, i guess (i suspect the negative reactions are probably based more on the whole tv-shows-and-subculture surrounding it rather than the books themselves, which is kind of understandable) but i've found some of the literature ("the game" and a book called "magic bullets" in particular) to be really useful in breaking down how the whole dating game works, and why some things are attracive to women, and some things aren't. personally i wish i'd had access them as a teen, and they really would pretty much do exactly what the OP is asking for - IF he wasn't totally squicked out by his parents giving him the books of course.

posted by messiahwannabe at 11:54 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Beyond giving him a curfew and letting him stay out late on Friday and Saturday night, there is not much you can do. If he doesn't have a job, encourage him to have one, because money helps.

Don't give him any advice; not just because it will mortify him, but also because your expectations are wrong. Teenagers very rarely ask each other out on dates. Teenage relationships usually evolve pretty slowly out of friendships. Even if this isn't the case, the last thing that's going to give him a confidence boost is a pep talk from his Dad.

Also, keep in mind that you might have no idea what's going on in his life. It's unlikely he tells you everything or most things. Maybe he's a stud, and you don't know it. Maybe he's trying to get girls, and it just hasn't worked out yet. The first time my parents met a girl I had been seeing, they started dropping hints about birth control. They, of course, didn't know that I had been having sex for two years. I had no reason to introduce them to people before this, and had pretty strong incentives not to.
posted by spaltavian at 5:29 AM on February 18, 2012

Error: The first sentence should read: "Beyond giving him a car and letting him stay out late on Friday and Saturday night,"
posted by spaltavian at 5:30 AM on February 18, 2012

Response by poster: Hey MeFi folks -

Wow! I'm really grateful for all of the well-considered thoughts on this subject. It's helpful for me to hear it from those of you closer to those teen years your perspectives. I've already started to put some of your ideas to work.

Thanks to you all!
posted by hick57 at 9:58 AM on February 21, 2012

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