You can’t believe your ears. “Did I hear that right?” He’s been brooding for weeks now. Your 12-year-old son hasn’t been himself the past month. He still smiles and talks as if nothing is going on, but you’ve seen the subtle signs—he’s spending more time in his room, eating less during mealtimes, avoiding family trips to the mall. He seems so tired and deflated, but no one seems to know why. Here’s how best to help him:
Get Dad’s input. Remember that parenting is not a one-person job. Work with his dad. In situations concerning your son, it is vital to make sure that your partner is aware of what is going on. Try to work the problem from different angles and keep yourselves updated.
Take your son out for a one-on-one date. Plan your activity in advance: start with a reason to go out; allot time for a meal or a snack in a quiet place away from people he may bump into or know; allow for a short awkward silence and some small talk. If he still doesn’t open up, be direct and tell him how you’ve been worried about him. He may not necessarily open up to you even after you’ve voiced your concern, but make sure at the very least to remind him that you (and Dad) are there for him whenever he is ready.
Ask his siblings. Your other children may prove invaluable in getting to the bottom of this mystery. Being closer in age, interests, and with a possible overlapping circle of friends, they may be privy to things you would never have thought of, or they may be able to better interpret what you know and give you a better picture of what’s going on. By making your other children aware of your concerns, they can also observe your son, and keep you informed, or approach their brother and give proper counsel.
Reach out to the school. There is a high probability that your son’s issues are connected to the one place where he spends most of his waking hours—the school. It would be a good idea to set an appointment with his class adviser and the guidance counselor (better if you can get them both in one sitting!) to discuss whether your son may be having academic or learning issues, or trouble with relationships in school. A fruitful meeting can give you new information and insight, and allow the teachers and guidance counselor to be more proactive in finding solutions.
Change things up. Despite your son trying to avoid joining in the family’s regular weekend activities, continue finding ways for him to stay involved in family matters. Instead of going to a nearby mall, bring your family away from his usual haunts. (You never know, there may be places or people he has been trying to avoid.) Allow your son to reestablish himself in new settings, and with new people. He may not be able to get away from everything that is bothering him, but time away and new activities may allow for some healing to take place.
Seek professional help. Some problems may be more than your family can handle alone. Such situations may direct you to consult with your son’s pediatrician, who may give you helpful advice. You may also be referred to an adolescent specialist, a family counselor or psychologist, a developmental pediatrician, or a child psychiatrist. Each of these professionals have a different expertise, and together, you may be able to piece the puzzle together. In the end, the secret to solving the mystery of your son’s behavior is not to discover what is “wrong” with him, but to understand how best for him to gain insight into his situation, and how to get him through this difficult period in his life.
This story was published in Working Mom’s March 2015 issue and was authored by Jack Alexander Herrin, M.D. Working Mom is available in all leading bookstores. Like Working Mom on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WorkingMom.Magazine) and follow them on Twitter and Instagram (@workingmommag).