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  • Danielle Matthew

How to Help a Teen Who Has Become Socially Withdrawn

Parents sometimes worry because their teen has become socially withdrawn. They no longer want to leave the house or hang out with their friends. And in some cases, they don’t even want to do things with their own family. So, parents ask, “should I be concerned?”

Many things can cause a socially withdrawn teen. Depression and anxiety are common culprits. Sometimes, teens become socially withdrawn after a traumatic event or experience. Social withdrawal among teens has seemed to have increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are some things that a parent can do if they’ve noticed that their teen has become socially withdrawn.

Set boundaries on screen-time with love and patience.

Since the start of the pandemic, screen time usage has increased by 500%. As a result, many teens have developed online friendships, and some have lost touch with their in-person friends. After months of “living” online, it can feel uncomfortable stepping back into in-person social events. Teens are likely to gravitate toward things that feel comfortable, and for many teens, it’s the online world – especially if that’s where they’re interacting the most with others.

Setting screen time limits can help your teen experience more balance between in-person and online interactions. If your teen has lost interest in outside activities, you may need to be the instigator of finding things to fill up some of the time they would have spent online. Also, if your teen has become socially withdrawn, it’s important to try to have others included in the activities. Asking extended family (cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) to do things with your teen can be a great way to help your teen start feeling more comfortable with doing things outside of the house.

Use empathy, empowerment, and engagement.

The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement) is a framework that I use in my therapy practice and that I recommend for all parents to use now.

Empathy – The foundation of the Three E’s is empathy, which understands your teen’s perspective from their viewpoint. Asking open-ended questions can help you know how they’re feeling and why they feel the way they, are versus assume what they’re going through.

Empowerment – Once you understand how your child feels, you can empower them to develop game plans to ease anxiety and address things bothering them. If your teen has become more reserved since the pandemic, discuss ways to help them reengage with their friends and others in the community. It can be helpful to have them role-play specific worries or concerns that they may have regarding situations that they may encounter.

Engagement – It’s essential to regularly check in with your teen to find out how they’re doing and let them know that you care. Sometimes, teens will act like they don’t want to engage, but it’s important not to give up. It can be helpful to participate in an activity with your teen that he enjoys. Doing something outside of the house (even if it’s just a short car ride) can help break the monotony of always being home if your teen doesn’t usually want to leave the house. It can also help make talking and opening up feel more comfortable.

Find people whom you and your teen trust.

I recommend that families make a list of people that they can talk to and trust. A network of trusted people provides teens with a safe place for sharing and processing thoughts. While it’s ok to have some of the people on your list be close friends and family, it’s also beneficial to have more neutral people such as a pastor, rabbi, counselor, or therapist. Your teen needs others they can feel comfortable talking to, which may also help your teen become less socially withdrawn.


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