Flickering Between Two Worlds

Flickering Between Two Worlds
Question: 

My 13 year-old is an excellent student and loves to read – but that’s all he wants to do! READ! I haven’t been able to interest him in any sports or activities outside the house. And even at home, he’ll hardly communicate. His nose is almost always planted in his newest library book! Please help us – we’ve come to the end of our rope!

Answer:

There are people who probably would give their eyeteeth to have a child who reads as much as your son, but there is also an old expression “too much of anything isn’t good, even if it’s too much of a good thing.”

In your son’s case, it is reading.

A child who reads to the exclusion of all outside activities, and who barely communicates within the home as well, as you have described, could just be intensely hyper-focused --- or it could be something much more.

At the age of 13, a budding adolescent usually is much more interested in peer relationships and activities outside the home than he is in books.  So this behavior you describe is not age-appropriate.

It is also not clear what is happening at school. Have you spoken with any of his teachers?

Depending on what type of material your son is reading, he may be doing his best to avoid day-to-day reality altogether. This is common in children and teens living in exceedingly stressful situations. (These might include domestic violence, verbally or emotionally abusive family situations, bad marriages, severe friction with siblings or difficulties at school.)

Sometimes kids respond this way if they are uncomfortable with interpersonal relationships either because they have difficulty with social interaction as a whole, or because they have specific issues with anxiety or depression.

You don’t mention how long it is has been going on, or what else is going on in the home, so here are a few questions to consider:

1. Does your son avoid making eye contact with you when he does speak with you? Does he avoid making eye contact with others?  Is it fleeting when he does?

2. Has your son’s appetite changed in the past few weeks/months?

3. Has your son gained or lost weight recently?

4. Is your son having difficulty sleeping?  Have his sleeping pattern or sleeping habits changed recently?

5. Is this behavior you describe new?

If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes”, I think it might be a good idea to consult a professional, if only to make sure that all is well with your son. Sometimes a neutral adult to talk to is all a kid really needs in these “high-pressure” times we live in, especially during adolescence.

Communication is really, REALLY important and when a teen stops talking, it’s time to find a way to open the channels in other ways. This is where a guidance counselor or an experienced therapist who specializes in working with children and teens can be invaluable.

As teens grow, the flickering constantly between the need to be treated like an adult but protected and supported in some ways still like a child is a conflict that is difficult to manage at the best of times.  Under pressure, it’s even worse.

A little extra help from a “safe adult” can be the best gift of all.


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