Sudden Withdrawal in Adolescents  


Does your son avoid going out for social activities with school or family? Does your daughter prefer to limit herself within her room rather than going out and playing in the evening? Are your child's teachers constantly complaining about your child because of his minimal interaction in class and low grades?

Social withdrawal is a common symptom of teenage life. Though fairly common, yet social withdrawal in children and adolescents may be a sign of depression. While it is normal for a child to begin to pull away from his/her parents and identify more with peers as he/she reaches adolescence, social withdrawal from friends and peers may be a sign of something more. Children who start withdrawing themselves from their environment may feel misunderstood, irritable, worthless, or hopeless. They may feel like no one can understand or help them -- so why should they bother keeping or making friends?

Common symptoms, which may accompany with your child withdrawing from the environment include:

1. Annoyed or irritable mood

2. Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

3. Change in grades, getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school

4. Change in eating habits

5. Feeling angry or irritable

6. Mood swings

7. Feeling worthless or restless

8. Frequent sadness or crying

9. Withdrawing from friends and activities

10.Loss of energy

11. Low self-esteem

12.Thoughts of death or suicide

What might be causing your child to withdraw?

It's important for parents to realize that there are other changes, which can occur seemingly overnight. There are changes that are not a part of normal childhood development. These are the sudden changes that stem from trauma and substance abuse, and every parent needs to know about them.

1. Bullying: When Your Child is Targeted as a Victim If you suspect your child is being bullied, you may see a difference in the grades and the attitude, and you also might see them become much more irritated and easily frustrated. Many kids don't talk with anyone about the fact that they're being picked on. Instead, they withdraw from the world. If your child is being bullied, you have to put pressure on his or her school administration and the school board. It's very important to advocate for your child.

2. Substance Abuse: "My Child Just Changed Overnight." Understand that it's the swiftness of that change that should get our attention and make you curious. In other words, your child will undoubtedly undergo some pretty major changes between the ages of 10 to 18. But if substance abuse is involved, behavioural changes can occur very quickly and it might even happen within a week or two. If this is the case, you will see your child stop or resist doing homework, for example. A drop in school grades often shows up first because it's clear and fairly immediate. Drugs and alcohol become an increasingly primary part of their lives. For example, they'll stop caring about things they used to care about-it may not matter to them if they're neatly dressed and groomed anymore. If you suspect that your child has a substance abuse problem, be very clear in your language to them. Let them know that they have to take responsibility for it even if that means going with you to see a professional who can assess them, you have to make your expectation clear.

3. Sexual Abuse: You will also see a child's behaviour change when they have been sexually abused by a stranger or someone they know. This personality change is often drastic. A child who has been molested often becomes more isolated and withdrawn. Their grades go down and they become more fearful of people and places.If you ever suspect that your child has been sexually abused, talk to your child, supportand comfort him/her, and have your child seen by medical and mental health professionals as soon as possible.

4. Peer Pressure: Peer pressure can lead to a loss of individuality. Extreme peer pressure may lead your children to follow what his/her peers feel right. This often leaves a child in a dilemma to whether follow his/her own set of values or that of their peers. Further, while a lot of kids succumb to this peer pressure, many kids tend to begin to withdraw themselves from both sides of their world.

5. Break Ups and Fights : Just as a break up effects an adult, it also affects a teen. The emotional affects of a breakup can hit a teen hard, depending on the length of the relationship, the intensity of the teen's feelings for his/her ex, and who instigated the split. A jilted teen may become angry, aggressive, withdrawn or depressed. Teenage boys are more likely to react with anger and frustration than their female counterparts. A teenage girl tends to turn her emotions inwards, and suffer from feelings of worthlessness triggered by the rejection from her mate.

How can you reduce your child's withdrawing behaviour?

1. Give your child a break: This is a very hard time for children both physically and emotionally. They are dealing with physical changes as well as hormonal changes. Children can become awkward and insecure at this stage as they strive to find their own identity. Be sensitive to their needs and offer them support. Shyness may just be their way of dealing with all this new stuff in their lives.

2. Help your child discover their hidden talents: Not all kids can play baseball or a musical instrument. However, adolescence is a great time to discover new things about your teen and help them discover their talents. Whether it's having a special touch with young children, writing poetry, or even algebra, help your child to expand these talents and in the mean time possibly find a group of peers that are also interested in the same things.

3. Facilitate your child's independence: Adolescence is a time when children want to be independent. It is often this independence and "I can do it myself" attitude that helps children develop their self esteem and confidence. Facilitate this need for independence by allowing your child more responsibility for his/her life. However, if you give your teen some control, you are essentially saying, I trust you, and nothing builds a child's esteem more than that.

4. Provide your child with information: Sometimes the most effective tool for getting through to your teen is by not using words at all. Do your research. Find information in magazines and on the internet on ways to overcome shyness and making friends. Leave it in a place you know your child will look, without it being completely obvious (kitchen table, by the computer, on the coffee table). Out of curiosity or boredom, your child may just flip through the information and find something helpful!

5. Keep including your teen in the family: A teenager may turn its back on all the things you have ever done together or as a family. Try not to make a big deal of this. If you are going out as a family always let them know that you would like them to come without nagging them.

6. Find new activities to do together: Teenagers see themselves as adults, so it is not surprising that they have grown out of some of the activities you used to enjoy together or would rather do them with friends. However, there are still activities that can help maintain the bond you have such as playing a sport or going for a Zumba class, etc.

7. Look out for how you talk: Try to ask questions that need more than a one word answer. "What did you enjoy doing there?" is more likely to start a conversation than simply asking if they had a good time.

8. Be a good listener: Usually when anybody wants to talk they just want to get something off their chest or air their views. Unless your teenager is clearly asking for advice don't jump in giving them the benefit of your knowledge and experience. Being able to work problems out for themselves helps boost their self esteem. Everyone needs a guiding hand from time to time, but nobody wants unsolicited advice that suggests they have done everything wrong.

9. A little praise goes a long, long way :There is a lot going on in a teenager's head at a time. It is a big help if you can remain positive and upbeat. Even if it doesn't seem like it they still value your support. Putting them down or deriding their ideas will only lead to trouble. Teenagers are likely to be very uncertain if they are trying out a new look or expressing their views. Criticism is likely to damage their possibly already fragile confidence and turn them against you. Even if they do not appear to, they still value your opinion and they are likely to be very sensitive to your criticisms

10. Learn to negotiate: If your teenager is not at least a little bit rebellious then there could be something wrong with them or you really are the perfect parent! For the rest of us we need to avoid laying down the law. This is likely to lead to confrontation and your wishes are likely to be ignored. Discuss situations that are troubling you and explain your feelings as calmly as you can.

11. No nagging! : The occasional argument is unavoidable. Therefore to keep your relationship as strong as possible, try not to let the little things get to you. Constant nagging will undermine any relationship very quickly. Biting your tongue too much can be painful, but it is a worthwhile price to pay to avoid silly arguments.

12. Accept times when the door is shut : There will be times when it is simply good not to talk. If your child is about to go out or is simply spending some down time alone in their room it is not a good time to try and strike up an important conversation. Watch and wait for a time when your teen seems ready to talk. Always be available to talk when your child wants to talk. It may be that they have had to make a big effort to start a conversation. Be there for them when they do try to talk to you. Turning them away makes them less likely to come back again.

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