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  #1  
Old 05-06-2012, 04:44 PM
Palo Verde Palo Verde is offline
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How can I help my socially awkward son?

My son Ben is 12 and will be going into 7th grade next fall. He is going from a school that was chock full of nerds, to a more everyday middle school. His big brother, who is finishing up his last year at the school, has told Ben that it is likely he will be made fun of and have a hard time making friends.

Ben is socially awkward. Some of it is just being a nerdy 12 year old. But he doesn't seem to get that his actions bother people. He'll suddenly break out into a song about a barfing ostrich or something like that. And seems hurt that not everyone thinks it's as funny as he does.

And he has these verbal tics, that vary, but can be annoying after a while. Last month before most thing he would use the phrase "What happened was..." Like this, "What happened was I was in class today and what happened was the teacher told this funny story and then what happened was Nathan laughed so hard he turned purple and then what happened was I pounded him on the back." These repeated phrases change every few months, but there is usually something.


On the one hand I want Ben to be himself. On the other hand I'm afraid he will have a really hard time at this school.

Any advice?
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  #2  
Old 05-06-2012, 04:59 PM
sitchensis sitchensis is offline
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Does he have any interest in sports? My older sister’s advice to me when I was entering 7th grade was to play every sport they offered the first year.
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  #3  
Old 05-06-2012, 05:02 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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When my daughter reached middle school age, I was in agony. She was (and still is!) so much like ME, I did not want her suffering all the real and imagined pains I endured.

I'm a klutz. I can trip over painted lines. I never danced, still don't dance. And my inability to dance, in my mind, was one of my major social failings.

I found a community class on hip hop dancing for kids of her age, and signed her up. While I'm sure she endured a thousand deaths before the class actually began, once she started she appeared to really enjoy it. And she learned to DANCE. She felt comfortable moving to any music, and she had appropriate and contemporary movements for the job.

Did it help her? Well, she never missed a school dance, all the way up until she graduated from high school.

To a wallflower of a mother, that seemed pretty damn good to me!


~VOW
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  #4  
Old 05-06-2012, 05:30 PM
Quartz Quartz is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Palo Verde View Post
it is likely he will be made fun of and have a hard time making friends.
Be very vigilant for this. If it happens, speak to the school immediately. And be prepared to move him to a more suitable school. I was severely bullied from the ages of 8-13 (and life afterwads wasn't exactly happy) and my parents left me to rot.
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  #5  
Old 05-06-2012, 05:49 PM
heathen earthling heathen earthling is offline
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Encourage Ben to learn animation and video editing, so he can channel his goofy songs and nerdiness into making Youtube memes. Teenagers love that stuff.
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  #6  
Old 05-06-2012, 06:01 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Friends are judged not on their quantity, but their quality. It's quite possible that he'll end up on the "outside" relative to the majority of the student body, but find two or three other students he gets along great with. There's nothing at all wrong with that.
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  #7  
Old 05-06-2012, 07:14 PM
Arabella Flynn Arabella Flynn is offline
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To be perfectly honest, you can't really do anything.

What you're asking here boils down to either, "How can I change my son so that he'll be accepted?" or "How can I change the other kids so they'll accept my son?" As much as you want to -- and I love that you want to, because you love your kid and want everyone to understand how awesome he is -- you can't do either of these. You are in charge of your son, but you can't be there all the time as he interacts with others, and you have no influence at all over other peoples' children.

(As an aside, when I changed elementary schools due to bullying, my mother tried the first one. She had a whole list of things she forbade me to wear to the new school, among other random prohibitions. It didn't make me any less weird or any less of a target, but it did make me feel like even my parents thought I was defective.)

What you can do is listen to your son. If he asks things like, "Why are they picking on me?" you can answer lovingly but honestly. Don't tell him 'they're jealous because you're smart/cool/unique'; tell him useful things like 'people in general don't like things they don't understand, and they don't understand your sense of humor'. I know I gave up on asking for advice after a while because all people would tell me was "be yourself", without explaining to me that not all parts of "myself" were appropriate for all situations, and that the great thing about having all those different parts of "me" was that I could pick and choose which ones I wanted to use.

If you aren't comfortable with negotiating this particular minefield, it might help if you can find him a counselor who is. I suggest finding one who is a huge nerd if at all possible -- if you find one who comes off as having always known what was up socially, it might backfire and make your son feel too awkward to talk about anything relevant. Bonus if you can find one who is also experienced with helping kids on the autism spectrum, even if your son isn't. It means they'll have experience taking all those social things that other people just "know" and putting them into words that someone who's used to tackling things in a geeky, detail-oriented, research sort of way can take apart and analyse.

You can also give him other places to be. It sucks being penned up for eight hours a day with people who don't like you. It helps if he can look forward to going to another place with people who welcome him. Home, obviously, but being stuck at home all the time isn't fun either. If you can find a club or a class for something he's interested in, sign him up. Don't worry if it's not necessarily all kids his age -- in fact, it might be better if it's a place he's unlikely to run into anybody who gives him guff at school. Sometimes kids who don't get along with their peers will get along just ducky with an older mentor, or younger kids they mentor themselves.

And finally, keep an eye peeled for actual bullying going on. You cannot make the other kids like your son if they just don't, but inappropriate behavior is something you can and should bring up with the people who are responsible for keeping your son safe at school. It doesn't always work out what you might term well, but sometimes, if they absolutely refuse to behave with respect, it's better if they just leave you the hell alone.
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  #8  
Old 05-06-2012, 11:53 PM
Guinastasia Guinastasia is online now
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His brother is finishing up his last year NOW, or next year? Because if it's the latter, it always helps to have a bigger sibling who can threaten to kick the shit out of the bullies.

Does Ben have a few friends at least?

Last edited by Guinastasia; 05-06-2012 at 11:53 PM..
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  #9  
Old 05-07-2012, 12:16 AM
TokyoBayer TokyoBayer is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arabella Flynn View Post
To be perfectly honest, you can't really do anything.
You just spelled out a hole bunch of things which are very useful and which I wish my mother would have / could have done.

Yes, the parent can't change the child with a magic wand, but helping the child understand things better, find other ways of getting support from other areas, finding places where the son does fit in, etc., are all damn good coping skills for life.I really cannot imagine how completely different it would have been to have a parent paying attention and listening to me.
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  #10  
Old 05-07-2012, 12:44 AM
Palo Verde Palo Verde is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guinastasia View Post
His brother is finishing up his last year NOW, or next year? Because if it's the latter, it always helps to have a bigger sibling who can threaten to kick the shit out of the bullies.

Does Ben have a few friends at least?
His brother will be gone when Ben arrives. His older brother is athletic, friendly and not at all awkward. I'm not sure if this will help or hurt, as they will inevitably be compared.
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  #11  
Old 05-07-2012, 05:02 AM
sandra_nz sandra_nz is offline
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Do you mind answering some questions so that we get a better picture of Ben and his situation?

Does he have much awareness of being 'different'?
Does Ben express a desire to be more liked? Or does he seem quite comfortable with himself?
Has he ever (to your knowledge) been teased/bullied about this at school?
What are his current interests? Are they quite broad or is does he tend to fixate on a single interest?
How many friends does Ben currently have? How easily does he make new friends? Will any of his existing circle of friends be going to the same school?

Also, is it really that helpful for his brother to be telling him that he is going to be made fun of and not have any friends? If Ben believes what his brother tells him, it could become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. What has been Ben's reaction to his brother telling him that?
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  #12  
Old 05-07-2012, 06:39 AM
monstro monstro is offline
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Assuming he doesn't have any grave abnormalities or anything, I really don't think there's anything you can do to "fix" him that wouldn't make the awkwardness worse.* Encourage him to join "geeky" activities--in and outside of school--and be there for him whenever comes home down in the dumps. But beyond that, he's going to have go out on into the world and learn what works and doesn't work on his own. Sometimes that's a painful process...finding out that you're not cool. But if he can trust you to have his back, it shouldn't be tragic. Many kids, especially boys, figure out that the geeks/dorks have their own respected role in school and don't actually care that they aren't popular.

Yeah, and his big brother isn't helping him. Tell him to stop.




*My mother would often express frustration with my eccentricities in attempt to "fix" me, and it did nothing but make me resent her for not accepting me the way I was.

Last edited by monstro; 05-07-2012 at 06:39 AM..
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  #13  
Old 05-07-2012, 06:49 AM
Acid Lamp Acid Lamp is offline
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He doesn't sound so different that he will be mercilessly tortured by the others. Adolescent years are the time where some of that awkwardness can be ironed out after all. There is nothing wrong with teaching him good coping skills and helping to ensure that he feels loved and supported at home regardless of the school situation. For example, you might encourage him to listen to what the kids are talking about and take a few moments at home to google those topics if he doesn't know anything about them. Then he might be able to contribute to the conversation in a more reasonable manner. Try explaining basic interaction skills like listening, staying topical and ways of avoiding offending people. For example, if the kids are discussing a pop song and your son doesn't care for that music, arm him with responses that will make him seems reasonable to the others. " I don't like pop much, I like rock." Or "It not really my thing" are both FAR preferable to " ____ is stupid." or the even worse awkward silence or non sequitor. Take a little time with him to help learn about a wide variety of common "boy" topics, like sports, cars, video games, and whatever is popular in music right now with that age group. He doesn't need to cultivate an interest, but having understanding will allow him to interact better with others. He might discover a new pursuit as well. Help him with his speech by encouraging him to tell you stories, give opinions on topics or simply tell you about stuff he's interested in. Practice makes perfect, and with time and gentle correction, verbal fill words will eventually decrease in usage. Particularly if you coach him gently.
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  #14  
Old 05-07-2012, 09:29 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VOW View Post
When my daughter reached middle school age, I was in agony. She was (and still is!) so much like ME, I did not want her suffering all the real and imagined pains I endured.

I'm a klutz. I can trip over painted lines. I never danced, still don't dance. And my inability to dance, in my mind, was one of my major social failings.

I found a community class on hip hop dancing for kids of her age, and signed her up. While I'm sure she endured a thousand deaths before the class actually began, once she started she appeared to really enjoy it. And she learned to DANCE. She felt comfortable moving to any music, and she had appropriate and contemporary movements for the job.

Did it help her? Well, she never missed a school dance, all the way up until she graduated from high school.

To a wallflower of a mother, that seemed pretty damn good to me!


~VOW
What a sweet story! I'm afraid that if I do ever decide to have kids, that they'll either be exactly like I was and I'll die a thousand deaths every morning when I send them to school or that they'll be the total opposite and be beautiful cheerleaders and prom queen and I won't know what the hell to do with that, either, and then she'll get knocked up with a syphilis baby because Mom didn't date until college and missed everything.
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  #15  
Old 05-07-2012, 10:40 AM
DMark DMark is offline
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Just a thought, but maybe get him to join some community theater group?

You mentioned he will burst out in funny songs - theater people appreciate the oddball and it is also good training for being open and learning how to "play" an audience. If he can deflect ridicule by turning it to his advantage, it is a great defense mechanism.

Theater is a great outlet for lots of kids who might be socially awkward. It really is a haven of sorts where they can lean to interact with peers, as well as perform in front of a larger audience.
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  #16  
Old 05-07-2012, 11:49 AM
ZipperJJ ZipperJJ is online now
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Another vote for theater, choir or band.

I was in band and had a much better school experience than probably most other fat, awkward, shy girls my age. We had plenty of goofy losers and while they did annoy us they were our goofy losers and nobody else had better mess with them.
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  #17  
Old 05-07-2012, 12:00 PM
Palo Verde Palo Verde is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sandra_nz View Post
Do you mind answering some questions so that we get a better picture of Ben and his situation?

Does he have much awareness of being 'different'?
Does Ben express a desire to be more liked? Or does he seem quite comfortable with himself?
Has he ever (to your knowledge) been teased/bullied about this at school?
What are his current interests? Are they quite broad or is does he tend to fixate on a single interest?
How many friends does Ben currently have? How easily does he make new friends? Will any of his existing circle of friends be going to the same school?

Also, is it really that helpful for his brother to be telling him that he is going to be made fun of and not have any friends? If Ben believes what his brother tells him, it could become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. What has been Ben's reaction to his brother telling him that?


Ben knows he is nerdy, but since the school he has been attending is full of nerds, I don't think he is completely aware that in other places he will more more significantly different. He is pretty comfortable with himself, but being 12, he is just on the brink of puberty, with all it's changes, both mental and physical. He was bullied a bit in elementary school and handled it well, he told me and a teacher and we took action to make sure it stopped.

His interests include cooking, manga, soccer and swimming. He has one close friend and several casual friends. He doesn't make friends very easily, but gets along with others casually. At his new school he knows a few people, but none of them are close friends.
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  #18  
Old 05-07-2012, 12:01 PM
Palo Verde Palo Verde is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DMark View Post
Just a thought, but maybe get him to join some community theater group?

You mentioned he will burst out in funny songs - theater people appreciate the oddball and it is also good training for being open and learning how to "play" an audience. If he can deflect ridicule by turning it to his advantage, it is a great defense mechanism.

Theater is a great outlet for lots of kids who might be socially awkward. It really is a haven of sorts where they can lean to interact with peers, as well as perform in front of a larger audience.
Funny you should mention it. He is taking drama as his school elective and LOVES it. But it isn't offered at his new school.
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  #19  
Old 05-08-2012, 06:56 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Originally Posted by Palo Verde View Post
Funny you should mention it. He is taking drama as his school elective and LOVES it. But it isn't offered at his new school.
Find other drama fans and talk one of them into getting a teacher to sponsor a drama club. Most actors don't need to be asked twice.
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  #20  
Old 05-18-2012, 01:33 PM
sammango sammango is offline
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I read your message with interest. You could be talking about my son. It sounds like you've been given some good advice and I wish that I could impart some wisdom. I'm exactly where you are in this situation, except instead of having an older brother, my son has an identical twin who is quite different. Right now we are going through an issue where kids that had previously invited both boys to activities, don't want to invite Duncan (my quirky guy) anymore. Like your Ben, my Duncan says silly things other people don't understand. I like you, am not sure what to do to make things easier for him. Perhaps I'm not supposed to. My husband thinks he needs to change his behavior. I suppose if he wants to fit in, he'll have to. I hate that thought, he's smart and funny and someday will be a great friend to the right people. It does break your heart, though, doesn't it? I'll be reading with interest they replies of others. And please keep posting and let us know how Ben is doing.
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  #21  
Old 05-18-2012, 08:33 PM
Common_Tater Common_Tater is offline
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I'm guessing that when he was younger, you and others probably laughed about his quirks and made him think he was funny. And because kids like to be the center of attention, that sort of response taught him that the quirkier he acted, the more people would like him. I was picked on through grade school. It wasn't until college that I learned how to socialize and fit in better. Part of growing up is learning how to fit into society. Individualism is important to teach, but not at the expense of the community. If HE wants to fit in, he's going to have to conform to some of things his peers feel are normal in behavior. Right before my senior year I made a decision to get contact lenses, start wearing clean clothes every day, showering everyday, and making sure I stopped any odd physical habits I had, like chewing on my lower lip. The day before school, when we were lined up for pictures, the hottest girl in class turned and said my name in a questioning manner and told me that I looked really good that year. It was a nice boost for my self confidence. But he's going to have to want to make the changes that will make him more acceptable. A little uniqueness is normal. But intentially being irritating...like it sounds like he's doing...is just going to be a way of alienating himself.
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