Help! My 16-year-old has suddenly become reticent!

My 16-year-daughter has been mischievous from young age. There was rarely a day when we didn’t get complaints from her school teachers and friends! But ever since she turned 15, she has become quiet, withdrawn and reticent. She is good at her studies but I am disturbed by this sudden behaviour change. Is this normal?
— Radhika Venkat, Chennai

This sudden psychological change is normative in adolescence. To deal with it encourage two-way communication and lend a patient ear to her, without being judgemental. Observe her closely as prolonged melancholia, loss of interest in studies/friends, avoiding brightness, etc may also be symptoms of depression. In that case, professional help is required.

My 15-year-old son is a slow learner and average student. He is not interested in sports and games but has a talent for fixing mechanical devices and circuits. He rarely reacts to anything but when he does, his response is violent. Should I consult a doctor? Please advise.
— Promila Chaterjee, Kolkata

Though you write he is an average student, he seems to possess strong mechanical intelligence. Sometimes poor socialisation skills and low self-confidence lead children to express themselves violently. You should focus on enhancing his social and communication skills by encouraging him to volunteer for community social service.
Also encourage him to sign up for group exercise or dance classes so he can canalise his energy and raise his self-esteem. His history as described by you doesn’t warrant immediate medical assessment. Instead it would be advisable to consult a qualified psychologist to help boost his socio-emotional intelligence.

My seven-year-old son’s friend has developed the habit of taking other people’s things without telling them, and has extracted a promise from my son that he shouldn’t disclose this to anyone. My son confided in me about his friend’s behaviour. I am in a dilemma. Should I tell his class teacher or parents? But I am scared I might upset my son.
— Mridula Warrier, Kochi

It seems your son’s friend is developing the habit of stealing which might develop into kleptomania as he becomes older. Early intervention will help him develop a conscience and capability to discriminate between right and wrong.
Appreciate your son for trying to help his friend by opening up to you. Assure him it’s good for his friend in the long run. If you are on good terms with the child’s parents, confide in them and convince them not to punish him. Usually corporal punishment aggravates aggressive behaviour in children. Informing the class teacher may not be very helpful. Do it only if you believe the teacher is mature and confident of resolving the problem.

Also don’t fret about upsetting your son because he has done right by confiding in you. Moreover it also shows that he is developing a conscience and sense of morality. Unpleasantness which arises between you both from disclosing the matter to the friend’s parents will heal quickly.

(Dr. Safarulla Muhamed is a Kozhikode-based behaviour modification psychologist and alpha behaviour therapist and counsellor)

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