A shy 13-year-old boy who does his own laundry. And the problem is?
By Marguerite Kelly,
Q. I’m worried about my 13-year-old son.
First the good news: He’s bright, creative and athletic; he’s self-confident and funny; he helps out around the house, and he does his own laundry.
And now the bad: He becomes quite talkative with someone he knows but he is definitely an introvert.
Most of his friends are on the same competitive sports team that he is on — they’re all very good for their age — and many of them hang out with one another, but my son doesn’t spend any time with them and wouldn’t go to a sleep-away sports camp with them, perhaps because we forced him to go there last year and he had a miserable time. He also wouldn’t go with us to the community pool this summer — not even once! — and he has turned down pool invitations from other people, too.
He did have one “best friend,” but this boy became more mature and I guess he just outgrew my son, who now spends a lot of time with his 10-year-old sister. He seems to depend on her outgoing nature, but the results can be mixed. Although she is quite mature for her age, the two of them can act really goofy when they’re together, and she often gets him into trouble.
Should I be concerned? Is there anything I can do? Or should do?
A. Let’s look at this situation from another angle.
Your son is smart and he’s good in at least one sport. He is confident and self-sufficient. He likes his sister, and his sister likes him. He is friendly and outgoing if he knows someone pretty well. He does his share of the housework. And he does his own laundry.
This doesn’t mean that your child is perfect, of course, because there is no such thing as a perfect child (or a perfect parent, either), but you’d probably make a fortune if you could bottle and sell his behavior.
You can’t do that, but you can figure out which of your son’s characteristics can be changed and which ones are innate.
Your son might be avoiding parties, sports camp and the neighborhood pool because he’s not as tall or as hairy as the other boys, or his voice isn’t as low, for children grow at such different rates of speed between 12 and 16, and these differences can be embarrassing.
If that’s not the case, your son might simply be shy. Being on a team should help him get over this problem, because every play will give him something to talk about, and so will an improv class, a role in a school play or getting on the debate team at school. A shy child often comes out of his shell when he goes onstage because he’s walking in someone else’s shoes.
If stage work is too scary for him to consider, he might like to take an art class so he can make friends with other creative children. Don’t fret, though, if he says no. One out of 10 children is naturally shy, but nine out of 10 of them overcome their shyness by the time they leave home. And the 10th one? He might always be self-conscious around other people, but his family and his friends will hardly notice the problem because he will have learned to hide his shyness when he was growing up.
If your son doesn’t have a case of the shies, his behavior might be as fixed as the color of his eyes.
Some people are born to be extroverts and some to be introverts. Some need many friends, others only want one or two. And some recharge their emotional batteries when they are with other people, while others need time to be alone.
Temperaments are fixed, too. Although they can be stronger — or weaker — in some children than in others, most experts agree that there are 16 temperaments; that some people are introverts and some are extroverts and that the Myers-Briggs test identifies them quite well. To learn more, read David Keirsey’s take on the temperaments in “Please Understand Me II” (Prometheus Nemesis; $20), which the Family Almanac has probably recommended more than any other book. Or let your son take the Myers-Briggs test or one of Keirsey’s $15-$20 online tests at Keirsey.com so you can encourage his strengths rather than concentrate on his weaknesses.
You’ll still worry about your son, of course — that’s your job — but before you get too concerned, just give a cheer and tell the world, “My 13-year-old son does his own laundry!”
You will be the envy of your set — at least until his hormones kick in and he stops doing it.
Send questions about parenting to email@example.com.
Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past Family Almanac columns.