Is Your Teen Lonely? 6 Possible Reasons Your Teen Doesn’t Have Friends

As a parent, it's heartbreaking when you see your child struggling to make friends...

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Is Your Teen Lonely? 6 Possible Reasons Your Teen Doesn’t Have Friends

Written By: Jessica Manning

As a high school counselor, I talk to a lot of lonely teenagers. And, I talk to a lot of parents who are heartbroken for their lonely children. 

I recently had a parent stop me at a track meet. She shared that her son stays home every night – he never gets invited to hang out, he doesn’t text or Snapchat anyone, and he went to prom completely alone. She asked, “What is it about him? Why doesn’t he have any friends?”

Sadly, her son isn’t the only teenager I work with who doesn’t have friends. 

Some teens go the entire school day without talking to anyone. They eat lunch alone. They do projects without partners. They walk the halls of the school alone. And, they walk home or sit on the bus alone – all while being surrounded by hundreds of kids their age throughout the day – many of whom also feel alone.

If only it were as simple as connecting all the lonely kids, introducing them to each other, and saying, “You should be friends!” I’ve actually tried that. I’ve tried friendship groups, mentors, pre-arranged seating charts, and partners…all to no avail, more often than not.

I’ve learned through the years that while parents, counselors, coaches, and mentors can make introductions and try to connect kids with other kids, it’s really up to the kids to develop the capacity to build emotional bonds and friendships with peers. And, some kids struggle with the skills necessary to make and keep friends – which can oftentimes be difficult for parents to recognize. 

Most kids I know who don’t have friends are fantastic kids with kind, good hearts, so it’s difficult for parents to reconcile that others don’t see the “good” in their kids as they do.

Please know I realize my observations don’t apply to all lonely kids – there are LOTS of reasons why a child may not have many or any friends. In fact, some kids may suffer from social anxiety – that’s a different topic we’ll address later.

I’ve worked with many teens through the years, and I believe all of these “friendship roadblocks” are things kids can resolve (or at least improve) when considered and addressed with intention. Here are a few possible reasons your teen doesn’t have friends.

Is Your Teen Lonely? 6 Possible Reasons Your Teen Doesn’t Have Friends

 

#1 They’re Too Quiet

Some kids are simply shy, introverted by nature, or actually enjoy being a “loner.” But if they’re interested in making friends they’ll have to work at being a tad more social. Some parents find it surprising that their teen barely speaks at school. The parents might see a vibrant, interesting, talkative kid at home. But at school, they rarely engage with other kids.

This is a tricky trait to fix, but it’s essential for teens trying to make friends. They have to make a concerted effort to interact. If you’re trying to help your teen with this, encourage them and create opportunities for them to practice holding conversations with others so they can learn to step out of their comfort zone.

teen doesn't have friends

#2 They Lack Self-Awareness

Teenagers can be brutal. The qualities you might find in your teen to be unique or endearing might be off-putting to other teens. Silly jokes could be deemed immature; a fixation on a certain topic could be seen as weird; matter-of-factness might be seen as rude; assertiveness might be viewed as bossy; over-the-top friendliness might come off as fake or hyper-focusing on school and grades could be deemed as “no fun.” 

Whatever it may be, all teenagers can benefit by becoming more aware of how they’re coming across to others. Do kids roll their eyes, walk away, avoid or ignore them? All signs they may need to take a harder look at themselves.

If you’re with your teen and notice a lack of self-awareness, point it out to them. Sometimes, straightforward advice is the only way they’ll learn. 

#3 Fear of Rejection

I recently talked to a girl who told me she never gets invited to do anything. I asked her if she ever invites anyone to hang out, and she said, “No, because I’m afraid they’ll say no.” Developing friendships takes courage. If your teen is afraid to leave their comfort zone or is afraid of rejection, it will inhibit their ability to make friends. I know so many kids who would love to get an invite; unfortunately, they’re all waiting for the others to do the asking.  

Remind your teen they’ll never make friends if they’re unwilling to try. So what if they get rejected? Not everyone is going to like them or want to be their friend and that’s okay. Just tell them to be their own quirky self! Chances are, if they focused on talking to ONE kid a day, they’d have a couple of friends to hang with by the end of the month. 

#4 They’re Not Independent Enough

Teens crave independence and want to hang out with kids who are on the same page. The teen who has his license but is afraid to drive or the teen who is too insecure to invite friends over to his house – these fears could be limiting their friendship opportunities. Also, I hate to say this, (because I’m certainly not promoting teen phone usage), but if your teen can’t communicate with other teens because they don’t have a phone or aren’t allowed to use it, it will affect their autonomy with friends.

In addition, if you have steadfast (overly tough) rules in your home that make other teens uncomfortable, kids will avoid your teen for that reason alone. I would never encourage a parent to change family rules about driving, phones, or having kids over just so their kids can fit in, but I do recommend parents be aware of what is age-appropriate for their teen as far as their social independence goes. 

teenager alone in bedroom no friends

#5 They’re Not Involved in Sports, Clubs or Activities

Teenagers develop the best friendships outside of school. Bonds are made in extracurricular activities – whether participating or spectating. If your kid doesn’t partake in activities and would rather hang out in their bedroom alone, it will make it even more challenging to find friends. 

If they’re not interested in school activities, they should consider getting a part-time job. Oddly enough, I’ve learned that fast food restaurants are their own little world; some of the kids I know who never had friends before found friends working at Chick-fil-A or Chipotle.  No matter what, encourage your teen to be a joiner. 

#6 Poor Hygiene

Ugh…this is one of those topics I cringe about when discussing with parents! But as mentioned, teens really can be brutal. If your teen has consistently greasy hair, body odor, bad breath, or dirty clothes, it will affect their friendships; there is just no getting around it.

Because of their hormones, most teens need to shower every single day, if not more than once a day depending on their activities. If your teen won’t listen to you about hygiene, try having someone else talk to them. Sometimes hearing it from anyone other than mom and dad can make a difference. I’ve given many, many gentle spiels about hygiene.

The need for friendship is a very real thing… especially for teenagers who NEED to have other kids they can talk, share, laugh and just hang out with. 

Of course, this is a short list of things that could be impeding your teen’s ability to develop friendships, but ultimately, making friends is a skill that can be fostered. Lovingly help your teen take ownership of their efforts to have friends. Above all, make sure your teen knows to make friends, they have to BE A GOOD FRIEND. There are lots of kids out there just like them… they just have to make up their minds to meet them. 

 

About Jessica Manning

Jessica is a high school counselor with over 20 years of experience working with teenagers. She earned an M.A. in school counseling and a B.A. in English and secondary education. Jessica is married to a high school principal and has three teenage boys; her current life revolves around all things teen. When not working or following her sons’ sporting events, Jessica appreciates any opportunity she gets to veg at home with her family and her dog, Phyllis. 

 

If you enjoyed reading, “Is Your Teen Lonely? 6 Possible Reasons Your Teen Doesn’t Have Friends,” you might enjoy these posts, too!

25 Tips to Help Your Teen Make Friends: It Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Help… My Daughter is Lonely and I Don’t Know How to Help Her

Scientific Reasons Why Your Teen Should Choose Their Friends Wisely

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2 comments

Jim McGraw May 22, 2024 - 2:09 pm

Great article! I was one of those friend-less kids. Perhaps my story will help a family or two. In retrospect, I can see now both internal and external reasons that I was alone.

1. Distance. My parents enrolled me in a high school across town as it was a better academic environment than the nearby high school. ALSO, we lived in a high rise apartment which had essentially no other kids living there. It was a “youth desert”.

2. Alcoholic Home. Beyond all the complex influences that parental alcoholism has on children’s mental development, no kid wants to bring friends home to a drunken parent.

3. Information. I never figured out how other kids seemed to know social things. Things that were obvious to them were cryptic to me. This was both frustrating and terrifying, as I never figured out a way to ask about those things without exposing myself to ridicule. Yes, that sounds a lot like autism. Perhaps I am on the spectrum… but all the tests I have taken suggest that I don’t have enough weird behaviors to meet the threshold.

4. Modeling. My parents didn’t have big friendships that I could see and learn from.

5. Lack of shared interests. The things that others seemed to value had no interest for me. Music is a simple example. My peers talked about popular musical groups and songs… none of that interested me. Male peers were obsessed with sports teams and stars…. again, that held no interest for me.

6. Age. Very early in life my parents made decisions that put me in school young. I stayed the youngest kid in the class for the rest of my primary and secondary school career.

7. Depression. I was deeply depressed for all of my high school years. I was intermittently suicidal. I had no idea what was going on or that it was treatable. I just figured that it was who I was. When I finally got treatment, decades later I was shocked at how normal could feel.

8. Anxiety. I don’t know if I had social anxiety that met any diagnostic criteria… but the result of all the above made me tremendously anxious in social settings outside my family.

I hope that this helps!

Jim

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Nancy Reynolds May 23, 2024 - 9:49 am

Thanks SO much for sharing your childhood experience, Jim! I’m quite sure your response will resonate with some kids/families. Thank you!

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