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Isolated in Middle School
Q: We moved a couple of years ago and my seventh-grader is having trouble finding friends. He says some kids are calling him a wimp and teasing him about not making sports teams. This is the first year he has tried out for competitive team sports. He seems very lonely and depressed. Can you offer some ideas?
A: During the middle-school years, students need to feel competent, valued, and connected. Peer groups play an important role in all three. But when our children's peers are not as supportive as we would like, our kids need to seek out other groups. Then the peer group will seem easier to conquer, and less important.
Try to get your son involved in activities for which he has a natural talent, especially service projects in the school or community. Helping others will make him feel good about himself.
How about getting him a "coach," an older boy who does well in your son's chosen sport. This "coach" can mentor your son and bring his skill development up to a more competitive level. Being seen with this student will enhance your son's standing with his peers. Acceptance by a key person can make fitting in so much easier. Best of all, your son will gain confidence and improve at the sport, even if he does not make the team.
Contact the school counselor, teacher, or your physician about your child's depression. If he has become clinically depressed, he will not be able to take advantage of these suggestions -- or anything else you do to help. He will need professional assistance for a short time to physically and emotionally deal effectively with his situation. Continue to be a good listener and someone he trusts.
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Judith Lee Ladd is a former president of the American School Counselor Association, a national organization of K-12 and post-secondary school counselors.