By Jason McCormick, Psy.D.
November 27, 2017
I work with a number of parents concerned about the quality of their child’s social life. Lamenting that their child has no true friends, many parents I see note that that their child doesn’t “hang out” with peers. However, when asked about how their child does spend time with peers, many parents report that their child is involved in several different structured after-school activities, such as a church youth group, scouting or a gaming club.
In other words, while not getting together with peers in less structured settings, these students often do, despite parent misgivings, have satisfying social lives.
I find it useful to think about socializers as lying in one of two camps: Jazz and Classical. Jazz socializers are all about improv. They’ll head downtown with a friend and see where the afternoon takes them, invite a friend over with no particular plan or agenda, or wander the mall in a herd. They care little about predictability and in fact relish spontaneity and surprise.
Classical socializers, by contrast, are most comfortable with structure. They crave predictability, wanting to know the specific parameters of a social activity, including the start and end times, the purpose, and the rules of engagement. Classical socializers, then, tend to do best with organized social activities.
It’s important to note that one type of socializing is not better than the other; it’s about match. I say that as many parents of Classical socializing children worry that their children will grow up to be friendless and alone. To those concerns, I observe that there are plenty of socially-satisfied Classical socializing adults: they have their book club the first Monday of every month, poker night every other Thursday, weekly chorus practice, and bar trivia on Wednesdays.
Thus, rather than trying cram to their Classical socializing child into a Jazz paradigm – which in fact runs the risk of leading to more social isolation due to anxiety stemming from the mismatch – I encourage parents to embrace the kind of socializer that their child is.
For parents of Classical socializers, that means supporting their child’s social satisfaction and growth through encouragement of their participation in a variety of structured after school activities (of course without over-scheduling).
In addition to giving their children a chance for a rich and rewarding social life now, participation in such activities serves as important practice and preparation for adult life, as in college and as adults in the working world, that is how Classical socializers will be most socially satisfied.
About the Author
Dr. Jason McCormick, a senior clinician at NESCA, sees children, adolescents and young adults with a variety of presenting issues, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), dyslexia and non-verbal learning disability. He has expertise in Asperger’s Disorder and has volunteered at the Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE).
Dr. McCormick mainly sees individuals ranging from age 10 through the college years, and he has a particular interest in the often difficult transition between high school and college.
As part of his work with older students, Dr. McCormick is very familiar with the documentation requirements of standardized testing boards. He also holds an advisory and consultative role with a prestigious local university, assisting in the provision of appropriate academic accommodations to their students with learning disabilities and other issues complicating their education.