Your teenage son is painfully shy, which people interpret as rude. How can you help?
You could explain to him that others are getting the wrong impression of him. That probably won’t turn him into a latter-day Cary Grant, but it might at least get him thinking. A shy teenage boy is dealing with a lot of issues, so you can’t push him or nag about this. He’ll likely grow out of it. And you never know, that perceived rudeness might make him a hot commodity among a certain segment of the female teenage population. There is no explaining how teen brains work.
– Bill Hageman
I’d first take a look at who is telling you he is shy and in which situations? Is this something that’s appeared with the teenage years or has he always been shy? Is it only with outsiders or within the family unit? Are there some areas of interest that he’s more comfortable talking about? Model for him appropriate social behavior (introducing yourself to new people in comfortable social situations, greeting people he already knows) and explain, lightly, how you handle such things. If he has a tough time thinking of something to talk about, mention fallbacks: weather, sports, movies.
– Judy Hevrdejs
Get to the bottom of two questions before you decide whether his shyness is truly a topic that needs addressing.
“Is he shy in every venue?,” asks child psychologist Jennifer Powell-Lunder, co-author of “Teenage as a Second Language” (Adams Media). “Often you’ll see teen boys open up with their teammates or friends or people they feel more comfortable around.”
If he has the ability to successfully engage and socialize with others, you have less to worry about.
“He may just feel like he doesn’t have much to say around adults,” Powell-Lunder says. “He could be intimidated.”
Second, she wonders, “Is this about you or him?”
“If he has friends and he’s getting along with others, is this really a big issue?” she asks. “Certainly, people need to be socialized. But are you sure that people think he’s being a snob or is that just a perception you’re worried about people having?”
Then again, if he appears to be genuinely struggling with social skills in multiple settings, and people are truly responding negatively to him, you should step in and give him some gentle guidance.
“You can’t just say, ‘Hey, you know people think you’re rude,’ ” Powell-Lunder says. “Adolescence is all about egocentrism, so they already have an imaginary audience they believe is watching every single thing they’re doing. You’re going to create so much more anxiety if you draw that kind of attention to his shyness.”
Find ways to make him more comfortable, not less. Help him find activities in which he can excel and spend time with like-minded peers, which should ease his anxiety and boost his confidence. And let him know how much he adds to a gathering.
“Tell him, ‘You know, people like to hear your opinion,’” she says.
Then listen, and encourage others to do so, when he does speak up.
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