Concerned about my DS' shyness and reluctance to do things. Am I doing too much for him?(35 Posts)
I have carefully considered which section to post this in and I understand AIBU is the place to post when you want frank, unfiltered advice. Here are the background details. DS is 14, will be 15 in a few months. Has always been quite shy. As a little boy, when I would be out with him in public, if anyone tried to say hello to him he would just stand there and say nothing. I would then have to make an excuse for him and speak on his behalf. I suppose that with hindsight, that could have been seen as cause for concern but I didn't see it as a problem at the time. I just saw him as my pfb who couldn't possibly have anything wrong with him. I'm sure it's the same for a lot of mums. As he is now in the stage of life where is expected to be increasingly independent, I feel there is definitely something wrong, but do not know how to help him. Social interaction with people he doesn't know has always been a problem for DS. It just doesn't come naturally to him the way it does for most people. He is very timid and sensitive. He also hates going to new places and meeting new people.
I would like to discuss school first of all. When DS was at primary school, I spared no effort in making sure he had friends coming over to the house. The thing is, the friends who came usually only did so because I was friends with their mums. He does not seem to know how to make friends on his own. He doesn't know what to say when he first meets someone. He can come across as being a bit...aloof. He will often just respond with one-word answers and will look at the ground instead of maintaining eye contact. The shyness is also affecting his work. There are no problems with his written work that he does on his own, but he absolutely hates working in groups. He will do anything to avoid having to stand up and read something in front of a class. Hates being the centre of attention and will usually be the quietest person in the group. When he is in a group who are having a debate or discussion, he will rarely contribute anything and won't usually speak unless someone speaks to him first. He is dreading doing oral exams for his GCSE's. I don't know how he is going to cope with those. I am as worried as him.
He is also struggling with the social side of life away from school. He will not go to the hairdressers to get a haircut because he hates talking to the hairdresser. He stopped going when he was 11. I do it for him at home. If I didn't do it, he would have long hair and would be a laughing stock at school. I would not subject him to that, but I realise I can't keep doing it forever. He also will not take public transport. He won't get the bus anywhere because he doesn't like talking to the driver. He used to get the bus with me when he was younger, but it was always me who interacted with the driver and paid them. He's also never been on a train, and wouldn't go on one unless someone was with him. If he ever wants to go anywhere I take him in the car. If I didn't then he would just hide away in his room all the time and not go anywhere. I also make all his appointments for him, including dentist, doctors and going the opticians for his eye tests (he wears glasses). I have to do all the talking as he won't speak to the receptionists or doctor or dentist himself. If he ever wants to buy anything he will ask me if the shop has self-service tills so he won't have to talk to a staff member. A friend's DS who is 16 just got a job recently. She is understandably beaming with pride. He apparently visited various local employers to ask if they had any jobs and handed in his CV on his own. I can't imagine DS doing that. If I suggested trying to get a part time-job he would probably look at me like he had just seen a ghost. If he can't deal with hairdressers, bus drivers and receptionists, then how is he going to deal with job interviews? I feel he is slipping behind his peers, and especially other teenage lads. They all seem to be brimming with swagger, confidence, and a willingness to grab life by the horns, so to speak. DS is very passive and doesn't seem to want to try things or push himself.
I've been frantically dr googling various mental disorders but I haven't found anything that seems to fit DS. Is there anything that seems like a red flag to anyone reading this? Am I right to be so concerned?
I think you are right to be concerned. He does seem to have a problem with social communication and will need support with this.
I am interested to read people's answers. Your ds sounds very much like mine. My ds3 is 13. He spends so much time in his room and never voluntarily goes out of the house except to school. He has friends at school but constantly turns down invitations outside of school and I worry one day soon they will stop asking. Yesterday my dad and brother came round for dinner and ds spoke all of 4 words to them. He just seems very shy and introverted. He rarely even speaks to us except to ask for food, then more food and does not interact much with his 3 siblings. School have not expressed any concerns except that he doesn't like speaking in class or doing group work. Like your ds, mine is passive, compliant, rarely gets angry or passionate about anything. I constantly worry about how he is going to cope in life. Part of me thinks he is just lazy/ apethetic, part of me thinks he might be depressed or just very different to my other kids. My other 3 kids are animated, sociable, sporty, hardworking ( eldest 2 have part time jobs), always out with friends/ at sleepovers etc. I know I should not compare them and I try not to, I just constantly worry about him.
Sorry it sounds really hard for you both.
I had this as a teenager. I grew more confident with age, but still have it to a slight degree.
The options for help involve therapy and antidepressants. Can you get a gp appointment?
Do you talk to him about this, does he wish he had more confidence or is he happy the way he is?
I imagine he probably wouldn't be up for therapy, but you can try.
My parents and teachers wanted me to get therapy but even that was too hard for me.
He's used to you doing everything 'public' for him, and now you've suddenly (in his eyes) changed the rules, and he's confused, and has no basic skills or resilience to fall back on. Have you asked him what exactly unnerves him so much in, say, a three-word exchange with a bus driver?
I don't think you're doing too much for him: it sounds more as if you're responding to the way he is.
I agree with the previous poster that your DS seems to have a problem with social communication and needs help with this. It doesn't sound to me as if he has a mental disorder, but I think he may be developmentally different. He reminds me of my own son, who has Asperger syndrome. Of course, I'm only speculating, but there are lots of red flags in your post: social interaction with people he doesn't know is a problem; he hates going to new places and meeting new people; doesn't seem to know how to make friends on his own; doesn't know what to say when he meets someone; aloof; doesn't maintain eye contact; hates the hairdressers...
On the other hand, your DS may just be very shy and need support in learning to cope with social situations, in which case seeing a good CBT therapist could really help him to do this in small steps, gradually building up his confidence.
It might be worth reading more about Asperger syndrome to see if it seems familiar. When I read Tony Attwood's book about Asperger syndrome it was as if he knew my son.
Whatever is causing your son's issues, there will be help out there. Your first port of call should be to your GP to discuss your concerns.
I do hope I haven't upset you by mentioning Aspergers, by the way. Obviously, I can only go on what you've said and it was the first thing that sprang to mind, but that's because my own son has AS and I recognised so many familiar signs. I thought hard about whether to mention it, but thought it best to flag it up, as you hadn't mentioned it as a possibility. I also think it just as possible your son could have social anxiety and that can be treated with therapy and support.
oh I am here to say ASD as well, sorry, but it was the first thought I had too, see your GP and ask for a referal to CAMHs either ASD/Aspergers or a social anxiety disorder they should be able to help.
ASD = Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I wonder if it could be selective mutism OP? Google that. There is a lot of help for that too. It is fixable.xx
I was a lot like this. I was just really shy and socially awkward. I remember the day my dad took the bus with me and made me give my money to the driver and take my ticket (he used to do it for me). I was so embarrassed I rushed off without taking the ticket. But the next time, I did it on my own.
You have to stop doing these things for him. He'll hate it, but he has to start pushing himself, he's not a little kid any more. Take him to the hairdresser a few times, but make him pay the bus fare himself. Stand back and make him talk to the hairdresser. Do you order for him in restaurants? Put a stop to that. It's time to get tough.
Sounds like severe social anxiety disorder. I had it as a teenager and struggled with all the things your son struggles with.
I took various meds and had intensive CBT, NLP and counselling in my early 20s and by age 25 could function normally, work full time etc. I still have traces of it and am still shy at times but nothing like the disabling, overwhelming social panic I used to feel.
Please seek proper diagnosis and treatment for your son.
I'd make an appointment with just you and GP and list your concerns and see what they think to underlying medical stuff - I'd try and do it with out your DS there as last thing he needs is more dents to confidence.
Then do what goodnightdarthvader1 is suggesting. I do this with my much younger and shy DC - you model the behaviour - you encourage/let them have a go at a bit of it while hovering nearby few times slowly build it up then decide they can do it themselves and let them.
As a child I was very shy and I found so many adults - not just parents though they were bad- wanted to protect me from stuff - would jump in to say that not for her she's shy. Doesn't help at all - just means you don't get the opportunity to develop the social skills.
Then they'd get annoyed when I hit around this age that I wasn't over my shyness - I think my stubbornness meant I wasn't as bad as I could have been - as I was older there were a few things/situations I focused on doing getting too did make it all harder for me though I'm sure they all acted from kindness.
I had idea that our DC being shy would need more opportunity to interact with people and different environments and situations. They do now gently push to do things themselves and seem to want more responsibility - helps build their confidence in a general way- though they can rely heavily at times on each other they are much bolder when together.
I also think you need to start encouraging him to do those things he doesn't want to do.Dealing with strangers is hard if you are shy,but not being able to to it is a big problem and it gets easier if you practice and harder if you don't.
Some of the situations you describe would be good for practicing - hairdressers,doctors,dentists,opticians are all well used to talking to people who might not want to be talking to them.
My DCs are like this and I've spent a lot of time making them talk ( while feeling so embarrassed that the doctor is talking to my teen,who is silent and looking at me!)
But it has got better! And I do explain I'm not doing it to torture them, that it will get better and easier
My DD is the same age and has similar parts however she does have friends (usually for very brief periods!!). She has a few long term friends that are used to her ways !
She is like it even with family going out for a family meal becomes awkward with everyone trying to engage her in conversation and getting one word back. She never asks how people are or wish happy birthdays. She will do things but I have to go with her she often looks at me when someone talks to her and if at doctors or school she'll say "you say" as if I'm phycic. She is very abrupt bordering on appearing very selfish and rude . I have no answers but your not alone I feel like my job has become full time promoter "Oh it's Amy's birthday , why don't you wish her happy birthday" "why" " because she's your friend and it's a nice thing to do" etc.
Unfortunately mine is far far from compliant though
I thought ASD but then I read on. My husband is as you describe. Struggles to go to the dentist etc, also because he hates speaking on the phone to people he doesn't know. I do all the household stuff, manage the finances etc. But he has a good job, is a wonderful dad and does all the cooking and DIY. It's just the way he is.
You could have a read of 'Quiet' by Susan Cain. I was like your son as a child and teen, I'm much better now but still will avoid the phone if I can. And I hate making small talk with hairdressers
My mother was like this, and it impacted on everyone's lives. When I was a child and even a teenager I thought it was normal. My mother never went anywhere by herself, and home haircuts, self-service restaurants etc etc were very much the order of the day.I could go on and on but basically she had a terrible phobia and my father enabled it.
I am shy too but I fight it, and the fact that no one is going to help me out in life means I have to step up to the plate. I think that's what you have to do with your ds: step back. My dd is/was very much like your ds. She never speaks in company - there's this awful silence if people talk to her and, as you remark OP, then you start babbling to try to cover it up as you are afraid people are thinking how rude your dc is. Dd used to be physically sick with fear if we had to go into a social situation, such as a large family do, and it was so like my mother I felt I mustn't just capitulate or her life too would be blighted.
Otoh there's probably a good deal of teenage awkwardness thrown in with your ds. My ds (17) will not go into Waitrose in case he sees anyone he knows in there - aka girls! He only started going to the barber's last year (he had mega hair before...) and as for the telephone - he will not touch it.
OP my first thought was ASD or possibly social anxiety (there is some overlap in the symptoms although they are very different things). The aloofness, the eye contact, the dislike for new places/people and the difficulty making or maintaining social relationships could all be signs for ASD like Aspergers, especially if he has always been this way.
I don't think you should be blaming yourself stepping in to communicate for him as clearly you are only reacting to the way he is and trying to help.
Whatever the issue it clearly goes way beyond 'shyness' or teenage awkwardness and is having a huge impact on his life and he needs a diagnosis and support asap.
I was very shy as a child. I'd cross the road to avoid speaking to a neighbour. I remember to this day how much I hated ringing the hair dressers to fix a trim when I was an older teenager.
Just bear with him. Make sure he goes away to university. I went away at 17 (a year young) to university and it does give you the chance to develop away from your family. (Not as bad as RB's mother above though and now I can talk to anyone, give talks all round the world etc BUT I remain internally like your son - a personality type which often does very well in life - read the Quiet book). We talk about this a lot at home as each child is different, not worse but different and we are a family of psychiatrists. One of my son's teachers said he could not really say how he was doing at parents' evening as he had never spoken in class so it was as if he were doing the subject by correspondence course. that son remains quite quiet at school - only bad thing said on parents' evenings is he chooses not to contribute mostly. i am hoping that might change a bit this year in sixth form as he chats away at home.
The Quiet book shows well how many of us like this are the happiest and best. We like our own company so are never lonely. We think and succeed at work as we concentrate better than others. It shows that some of the best CeOs are made like this so it is certainly not a hopeless personality to have unless it becomes so bad you cannot operate life.
I would not force him to have friends (my favourite weeks are those without meetings and yet every day of the year someone is offering me a lunch or dinner (usually a work thing) as if that is some kind of reward rather than something I will suffer. I joke to the children that I wait until I am 85 and have the chance eventually to live alone and how lucky the OAPs are.
Oh, Lord, DeoGratias, if I had a pound for every time I'd been told "they don't contribute in class" I'd be in the Porsche garage. My parents were told this too about me. One teacher was apparently quite cross and said I was "selfish with my knowledge".
Back to OP, I really feel for you and your ds. Shyness can be so crippling. My ds has no swagger whatsoever, has dyspraxia (so is super clumsy) and is a huge geek (superheroes, comics etc).
Does your ds have a hobby or (hate this word) passion? My ds is positively potty about music (bands). He has started going to see them by himself and with a topic of conversation that's more mainstream than some of his previous obsessions it's easier to chat to people.
The problem is if he is on the spectrum then some of the advice you and others here give is pretty terrible and could backfire badly as it is more geared towards overcoming shyness and social anxiety. If you push a young man with undiagnosed ASD into a new situation like university without the appropriate support things could implode rather rapidly and it would further damage his self esteem which already sounds quite low?.
Also he could have both the social communication issues that come with Asperger syndrome and extremely high levels of social anxiety which is really a toxic mix that requires professional help. The inability to process social cues easily and the sensory overload often experienced would just feed into the anxiety which will only further heighten the senses creating a vicious circle.
Yes, although nicer teachers have said to me that you only need half the class who is noisy and outgoing as you want a balance. His non identical twin speaks more in class (although not much in the home). The non speaker is worried he will get the wrong answer (although he's often correct with his answers and doing pretty well at school).
I forced myself to argue mock trials at university, to volunteer at a law centre etc etc because I know that for much of life not least dating you need to get over these things but I was never in need of psychological help. I am just naturally preferring of my own company. My older daughter always wants and needs to talk to people. Peoplej ust differ.
I agree that finding a hobby is a good idea. We need to make sure children have something they love and the best schools try to find that too particularly for chidlren who aren't good at anything (although if you are quiet it doesn't mean you are bad at school work, often quite the contrary). It can be quite hard as a parent to see a child rejecting all the positive stuff schools offer like extra trips, debating societies, youth parliament when you know employers love personal skills and ability to talk but I find it easier to understand as I was the same sort of quiet teenager so I proably reaslie it is less of a problem and that those lucky silent types even if they live silently for life can be some of hte happiest people around as they do not need others for personal contentment although it is totally different if someone is depressed of course.
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