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Eleven-Year-Old Has Withdrawn from Classmates

Middle School Expert Advice from Connie Collins

Q: My 11-year-old son doesn't want to associate with his classmates. His teacher tells me that he is popular at school, but he says they don't share his interests and he doesn't want to play with anyone after school. He's in an academically accelerated class. He's normally very physically active -- he's an avid skateboarder and was on a summer swim team, but lately he comes home and plays alone on the computer with video games. He wants me to consider transferring him to a middle school in the neighboring district so he can meet new people. What should I do?

A: I am very curious as to why your son has changed so dramatically and wants a new environment. My guess is that something is happening or has happened between him and another student(s) or between him and a teacher. I suspect something is going on in reality or in his perception of his relationships at school, and just changing schools won't solve the problem.

I would suggest that you and your partner identify a person your son is most likely to open up to -- or perhaps a close adult friend or relative or a professional counselor at his school or in an agency. Whoever it is should listen to your son with firmness and kindness, reading between the lines. Ask him what will be different at a new school; how will he be different? Ask if he will return to his skateboarding and swimming? Why would he be able to do at a new school and not at this one? Help him learn that he can resolve whatever is going on at his home school and that he needs to do this for his own sense of empowerment.

It's often easy for us as adults to know that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, but an 11-year-old just hasn't had enough experience to understand that truth.

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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.

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