Social Anxiety and Making Friends at School

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Reader’s Question

I am a Chinese teenage girl. At home and outside I’m an extrovert, but I’m an introvert when I am at school. I like to make lots of friends. In first grade, I made my first friend in school. She’s extremely shy — so shy that she would never talk. This friend is really nice. But, I can’t seem to make friends when she’s around. She seems attached to me. I’m her only friend. She’s upset if I talk to others, and she doesn’t know how to socialize. I can’t make other friends when she’s around, and that makes me sad. Please help! What should I do?

Psychologist’s Reply

If you find it difficult to make new friends, having another friend who is just as shy as you (or even more shy and withdrawn) is going to make the situation more difficult. Making friends can be difficult at any age, but it can be even more challenging for teenagers. The teenage years are a time when friendships are often very important, yet making healthy social relationships during this age can be a challenge.

If you want to make more friends at school, it is probably best to first have a conversation with your friend about your dilemma. Explain to her that you are hoping to make more friends at school and be more social. Tell her how her actions affect you, and let her know that making new friends does not need to interfere with the relationship the two of you have. Hopefully, your friend can see where you are coming from, and do her best to support you in your increased socialization at school. If you discuss the issue with her and it is still difficult to talk to others when she is around, you may want to think about limiting the time you spend with her at school. Maybe you can spend mornings before classes with her and spend time apart during lunch time. Or you may decide to spend time with her outside of school, but spend time separate from one another during school hours.

If you feel bad about creating some separation in your friendship, remember it is not your job to solve her social anxiety. It is important for you to take care of yourself. By doing the right thing for yourself you may be helping her, too. It’s possible that if she sees you successfully making new friends at school, she may be encouraged to take the risk and make new friends, too.

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