Making friends for sweet 12 year olds?
March 1, 2022 5:50 AM   Subscribe

My warm-hearted, gentle, sweet 12 year old niece is short on friends and has asked for help. She is friendly with kids at school, but doesn't have anyone she's particularly close to. Due to a busy family (younger siblings) and lock-downs she hasn't done much extracurricular activities and now feels at a loss. How can we help her find good pals?

She's a great kid - friendly and easy to talk to, a little shy but not overly so. Definitely not a moody teen yet, a bit young for her age. Likes LOL dolls and low-key crafts, not a book worm. Main hurdle is that she feels the local sports or music groups are full of very skilled players and gets discouraged about being a late starter. Family has been overwhelmed with ::everything:: but has bandwidth to dedicate to a long term committment now. Where would be a good place to start? More one-on-one playdates? Girl Scouts? Assume we all know nothing! (in NJ, US)
posted by jebs to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Drama class or club? That’s a good place for kids who want to meet other creative, maybe-young-for-their-age kids. The good ones for kids that age will have a lot of fun, goofy improvisation games that help kids get to know each other.
posted by lunasol at 6:00 AM on March 1, 2022 [13 favorites]

Karate. Kids start at all different ages, and if the dojo is a good one, there's focus on citizenship and kindness as well as the arts. My kids are 12 and 8 and have made excellent friends; I started Tai Chi recently as an adult in the same dojo and have also made friends that with some effort could certainly develop deeper.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:02 AM on March 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

My kids both joined local football (soccer) teams. Most of the kids on their teams are from other schools, so it's been a good opportunity to expand friendship groups beyond school.
posted by pipeski at 6:11 AM on March 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Does her local library have any programs for kids her age? Also look in parks and rec classes that she might like.
posted by mezzanayne at 6:32 AM on March 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think more one-on-one playdates is a good place to start. Activities are great but it will just get her more acquaintances; one on one time will build more intimacy and friendship. For example, she could invite someone from school over to do a craft OR if her parents prefer to not have people over, she could find a local event and invite someone (for example, craft time at the library). If she is shy to ask, it might help if her parents talk to another parent at school dropoff or pickup just to see their comfort level with playdates, since things are different for every family in covid times.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:42 AM on March 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Girl Scouts is a great idea. My 12 yo daughter also suffered a lot socially because of the pandemic. She's rebounding now and Girl Scouts has been a big part of it. She gets a built-in social network, and gets many activities (camping, museum visits, theater) that she wouldn't have done otherwise. I really can't imagine what my kid's life would be like without Girl Scouts over the last year - it's made a major difference for her.
posted by gnutron at 7:19 AM on March 1, 2022 [13 favorites]

I'd agree with her instinct to avoid team sports / music where she really is behind the rest of the kids, in addition to being discouraging that is an easy environment to get "othered" in. Some sports tend to have starters of all ages and are more welcoming - in my limited experience they tend to be "team" sports that are actually individual - Martial Arts as mentioned (Karate, Jiujitsu), Rock Climbing youth classes. It's easier to be supportive of a teammate without the dynamic of their performance directly affecting your success or failure.

There may be other niche sports that are just starting out in middle school - the soccer and basketball teams are going to have people who've done it for ages, but what about badminton, ultimate frisbee, or crew? Outside of sports, stage crew at school theater productions has a pretty low barrier for entry (can you follow directions, wear all black, and pick stuff up and put it down?). Girl Scouts is a great source of events if the local troop is welcoming, which they usually are.

She's going to have to make the leap herself to turn the acquaintances she meets here into friends, if she sees a spark, but it helps to talk about how she might do that. Does that mean going into the local town coffee shop and walking to a park? Asking people over? Going to a [local town thing that everyone likes]? It might take a few tries before she finds people she vibes with 1-1, so don't expect it to happen with the first person she mentions. It's going to be enough pressure on her without family always asking "what about that one nice girl who you talked to that one time"?
posted by true at 7:29 AM on March 1, 2022 [10 favorites]

Where I grew up, lacrosse was not a very popular sport and so nobody really started it until middle school (even in high school, most of the rookies were new to the sport). It was fun and lower-pressure because of that. I believe it has become more popular in the years since (and was always more popular on the east coast), but I might look for a less-popular sport with a similar pattern of later starters: crew? ultimate? cross-country? track?
posted by mosst at 10:06 AM on March 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding karate!
posted by smich at 12:06 PM on March 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Sleepaway camp! I am still friends with some of my cabin-mates from when I was 12. One thing that was great for me, which may or may not be great for her, was going somewhere that basically no one from my school went, so I got to kinda reinvent myself. (If cost is a hurdle, many camps offer camperships.)
posted by Charity Garfein at 12:11 PM on March 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

When I was that age and struggled with friendships at school, Girl Guides (/Scouts, depending on location) was a godsend. Some of my happiest memories as a young teen come from Guide Camp and other activities we did. None of those friendships lasted beyond adolescence, but it was enough of a happy social life to make up for the abysmal one I had at school.
posted by Balthamos at 1:34 PM on March 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Girl Scouts?

Girl Scouts! Different troops have different personalities, so her folks might want to get in touch with a few leaders and see who has openings and what they like to do (e.g. camping, highest awards, community service, travel, eat cake and watch movies, Lego robotics...). Type "Girl Scouts New Jersey" into a search engine and pick the council that's closest to her and contact them, but also ask on parents' groups on Facebook; at least where I am, a lot of youth find groups through word-of-mouth more than the official council troop placement thingy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:00 PM on March 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

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