Care and Feeding

Something Feels Off With My Teen’s Social Development

How can I help my otherwise sweet and intelligent daughter?

Mom hugging her daughter.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a daughter who is … different?

I’m concerned about several things. She is 13 but frequently has tantrums at home over minor things, like a 6-year-old—yelling, high-pitched screaming, violently moving her limbs. She also still plays with dolls, although she has elaborate stories for each of them now, and she jumps up and down with joy when it snows.

She has issues with tone, and often doesn’t realize how she comes off, like sounding mad and aggressive when she is actually super happy. This makes her seem insincere or like she’s being rude when she doesn’t mean to. This doesn’t help with her social life; she has three friends who can see past her differences and they are amazing, but she doesn’t really hang out with other kids or kids her age. She also struggles with most sarcasm; for example, she asked an older kid who she knew if she could sit with them, and they sarcastically replied with “No, of course not. I’m just going to make you sit at the other table.” My daughter replied with “Wait, are you serious? I can go sit over there. I’m sorry.” It went straight over her head.

She is the clumsiest person I’ve ever met—regularly running into railings, light switches, desks, and doors. She moves herself a lot when she’s stressed or anxious: tapping hands and pens, jiggling her legs, shaking her head, etc. She says she feels her head randomly vibrate sometimes. She frequently complains of stomach pains and randomly feeling nauseous. She also says she generally feels off.

I’ve also noticed she’s been quite tired recently. I don’t know if any of this is related or what to do about it. Make her visit a doctor? (She’s scared of her family doctor for no good reason.) Something else? How can I help my otherwise sweet and intelligent 13-year-old?

—Canadian Mom Needs Help

Dear CMNH,

It sounds like there are a lot of signs pointing toward something going on with your daughter, and though it may not be clear to you exactly what that could be, it seems that there is more than enough evidence that she could benefit from the evaluation of a professional who might be able to understand and recognize what some of these behaviors and traits might mean. Your pediatrician should be able to refer you to a child psychologist, who will have some insight into exactly why your child misses social cues, can’t comprehend sarcasm, or doesn’t seem to be meeting developmental milestones at a rate that seems appropriate.

I urge you not to drag your feet in getting this done, as it sounds that some of these observations indicate that your daughter may be suffering some discomfort as a result of the differences between her and many of her peers, and that she may require some interventions or accommodations to thrive socially and academically.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My daughter’s sixth grade elective teacher recently called me to tell me that my daughter is a great student, eager to learn, and very fun to have in class. Sounds great, right? But he also mentioned that he often asks her to partner with difficult students in class. When I asked my daughter about this, she said that these difficult students are often boys that don’t pay attention and don’t really want to be in the class. I let my daughter know I thought she was a good classmate, but the more I think about it, I feel like it isn’t my daughter’s responsibility to manage these boys in class, and that this is part of how girls get taught to be responsible for boys and their behavior—and likewise how boys learn that they aren’t responsible for their behavior. Is it worth going back to the teacher to have a discussion with him about this? Or should I just let it go because it is one semester of sixth-grade mythology? How should I talk with my daughter about it?