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Q. My son went through puberty late, so he was left out of the social scene at high school and was ostracized and bullied. Consequently we had him switch high schools. How can I help him have the confidence to overcome this loser stigma?
I don't see any behavior that is obnoxious or irritating to others, but I'm so worried that he will expect to be ostracized and this will create another cycle of failure. I don't want to be critical of him or fill him with all sorts of advice -- he is truly a nice kid who has made good choices, not choosing the wrong crowd to hang out with. We have taken him to different psychologists to be sure he was not becoming depressed. I know in the long run he will end up just fine, but is there anything you can recommend to help with this fresh start?
A. You're already doing lots of things that are appropriate on your son's behalf. You've given him the opportunity to change and begin high school anew. His mental health has been monitored. You're respecting his adolescent need to make decisions about how he conducts himself at high school. You understand that he has attributes that will serve him well now and in the future.
It's important to know that the task of each teenager is to separate from Mom and Dad and find his or her place among peers. Most teens do so at school. Some teens, however, just don't fit into the high school social scene. These kids still need to fit in somewhere to develop young adult competencies beyond home. If you realize your son isn't finding a social spot at his new high school, help him find someplace else where he can fit in. While you can't hold his hand through this process, you can offer ideas, interest, support, and approval.
Some kids find their place in a religious organization, and others in community volunteer work. Some get a job. A few go to a community college to finish out their high school credits. Others participate in a sport that isn't part of the high school sports life, like skiing. Consider these five options for your son, and mention them to him as ideas for places to connect beyond high school.
If as a teenager, you were fully emerged in high school and were popular and active, it will be harder for you to admit that the high school scene just isn't for your son. But you need to look out for your son's best interest even if it's not what you imagined for him. High school isn't the place for every teen to blossom into adulthood. While every child needs to graduate from high school, many thrive quite nicely without taking the traditional approach to those four years.
Tell your son that even though high school has been rocky, you believe that in the long run he will be fine. If you believe in him and voice that belief, he'll believe in himself.