A son’s friend has become unfriendly to the adults. Do they do something? – Lifotravel

Q: My middle school son’s friends are friendly and polite, but over the past year one friend has gotten frosty toward us (he is fine with our son). He doesn’t acknowledge us when we say hi or say thank you for rides. At first it made our son uncomfortable on our behalf. Now he gets defensive and annoyed at us for noticing it. Do we try to ignore this friend’s behavior? (It might be that I’m worried our son is starting to act like this friend.)

A: Middle-schoolers can become surly for all kinds of reasons, most of which we will never fully understand. Growing up, no matter how disenchanted and out of control I was becoming, I was never rude to another parent. I was raised to “respect my elders,” and while that can appear to be the gold standard, I’m not so sure anymore. Of course, basic manners are lovely, but there is something to be said for not pretending.

In any case, we don’t know why this child has become frosty to you. Are you annoying? I am asking this with lots of love, but do you pry or try to act too cool or ask provocative questions? Even if you do all of that, no one should be rude to you, but it might explain some of the frostiness.

But I am betting that this friend’s rudeness has absolutely nothing to do with you. It is clear your son knows this is odd or out of line. As best as you can, separate the behavior from this boy. Because you don’t know (or don’t mention) any aspect of his personal life, there are a whole host of reasons that he may have become more withdrawn. As you note, he isn’t actually rude to your face as much as he has become quiet. So let’s extend some love to this young man.

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To begin, don’t take the silence personally. When he enters the car, give him a smile or a nod or simply, “Nice to see you, Will” and keep it moving. You don’t need to make it awkward or expect anything back; you’re the adult. He isn’t your equal, so let’s not treat him like one.

Next, take the kids for pizza or ice cream and just observe the dynamics. Is your son getting rude or surly? Or is he still the young man you know? Worrying about the influence of others is totally reasonable and shouldn’t be ignored, but you need to check your worry against reality.

The best defense against a tween or young teen over-identifying with their peers is a close relationship with you. And, by the way, it is completely typical for a middle-schooler to start trying on many different personalities, and it can feel all a bit unpredictable. That doesn’t strictly mean he’s being like his friend. It’s a time of great change, so don’t read into it too much unless you see drastic differences in your son’s behavior, connection with you, school performance or other friendships, for example.

Finally, rather than seeing yourself as the behavior police, see yourself as a loving force in this boy’s life. Say to your son, “Will has become quiet, and that’s okay with us. If there’s anything he ever needs or needs a place to feel safe, our doors are open.” By communicating that this friend doesn’t need to make you happy and your willingness to be open to his challenges, you are demonstrating important family values (caring for others) and showing your son what having a village looks and feels like.

As for reading, I like “Building Boys” by Jennifer Fink and “Decoding Boys” by Cara Natterson. Both books will break down development and help you understand how young men process their emotional needs in our culture. Good luck.

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