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My daughter won’t go out to meet friends after lockdown

Try to understand her perspective and what might be behind her social reluctance

My daughter is 13 and has just finished her first year in secondary. Prior to lockdown she was not that happy in school. She seemed to have a falling-out with one of her friends and was finding it hard to find her group. She would not talk to me much about it but I was worried about her.

As a result, once lockdown started she was initially delighted to be off school. She did fine with the home study. She was surprisingly organised and motivated, but I could see that she was bored and lonely. When I suggested she facetime some of the girls in school, she would fob me off and there would be a row if I tried to pressure her. Now that the summer is starting, and friends are starting to meet up, I have been encouraging her to make contact with some of the girls, but she is reluctant. When I pressed the point she said “they never bother to contact me over lockdown, so why should I bother”?

Then she got a text from a friend in the class, suggesting a meet-up in the park with another girl, but she was hesitant to get back. When I pressed her on this, she said she did not know the other girl and didn’t feel like meeting. I felt exasperated because this was her chance.

Should I insist she meets up? I just don’t want her to cut off from everyone in school.


The start of the teenage years brings many challenges. Fitting in, making friends, dealing with peers can become big issues and are fraught with problems. It takes a lot of trial and error to learn the social skills of reaching out to new friends, managing social conversations, handling jealousy and rejection etc. At the start of the teenage years, children become self-conscious, anxious and awkward which makes this all much harder.

In addition, it is normal for young teens to become more private and pull back from their parents. When they were younger, parents might have “managed” their children’s social lives, arranging playdates and social activities so they have plenty of company, however in the teen years they have to learn how to make all these social arrangements themselves. It would be acutely embarrassing for most teens if their parents made contact with other families to arrange social meetings etc. Your role is still important as a parent but it becomes one of being coach and supporter. You are there in the background, listening as they encounter challenges and supporting them to make good decisions.

The Covid-19 lockdown has hit young teenagers hard. They have missed out on many of the formative social experiences so crucial to their development and self-esteem. I have come across many teenagers like your daughter who are finding it hard to re-engage and get started back into social groups (especially when this was anxiety-provoking to begin with).

Be empathic

It is understandable to feel exasperated by your daughter’s reactions, but it is important that you still respond empathically. Take time to understand things from her perspective and what might be at the bottom of her social reluctance. It is understandable that she might feel a bit rejected if she perceives people did not contact her and it is also understandable that she might be reluctant to meet her friend along with a new girl she does not know. Managing three-way social meetings can be particularly challenging and are prone to feeling jealous or excluded.

Listen first

As she does not talk often, it is important to first really listen when she reveals her feelings about her social dilemmas. When she says “they did not contact me”, take time to draw her out and invite her to say more. Acknowledge how she might be feeling and how this is normal. For example, you could remind her that lots of teenagers like her avoided reaching out during lockdown and found it awkward to do video calling.

Thinking things through

You can also invite her to consider the feelings and perspective of others. Using good questions is a good way to do this. For example you can ask her: “Why do you think your friend is inviting the other girl along for the meet-up?” This could be that she also finds social situations difficult and is inviting the other girl along to make it easier for her (though this might be harder for your daughter who does not know her).

Explore with your daughter her options for going forward. For example, you can ask her: “How can you make it easier to meet up with the two girls?” for example, thinking through what she might say or planning where they might go etc. Give her the space to make her own decisions. If she ultimately decides not to go, explore with her ways to do this in a positive way that does not burn bridges, for example, by suggesting an alternative one-to-one meeting with her friend on another day.

Throughout the summer, continue to look out for new social opportunities and activities that come on stream as the Covid-19 restrictions are eased.

Dr John Sharry is a social worker, founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD school of psychology. See