Dear Lauren,

I really like your resolutions to people's questions! My 13-year-old daughter doesn't have a best friend. She’s not shy, but she lacks common sense. She says she can’t keep a conversation going for more than two minutes because she doesn’t know what to say, even to friends she’s known for years. She used to have very good friends, but not anymore. We tried to teach her, but could not imagine all the social situations. Also she forgot what we taught her really fast. She said she doesn’t have a good memory for these kinds of things. I am really worried about her. Could you please tell me what I should do? Or can you recommend some fun videos or DVDs about common sense and how to make and keep a friend? Thank you so much!

Dear Lauren,

My brother and I share a room, and we are so different. It's so hard to deal with!

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Getting along with other people involves just a few simple rules:

  1. To get a good friend, be a good friend.
  2. In order to be a good friend, notice what the other person is thinking and feeling. Listen to what they are saying and notice their body language so that you can know what they’re thinking and feeling.
  3. If you can’t figure out what they’re thinking and feeling, kindly and respectfully ask them.
  4. Once you find out what they want, try to do it!

In terms of sharing a room with your brother and you guys are so different from each other, I would follow the four rules above, and add a layer of just generally being accepting of differences. It’s okay if someone is different than you. It’s okay if, for example, he’s neat and you’re messy. The messy person just has to keep his mess out of the space of the neat person. And, vice versa, the neat person just shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning up after the messy one.

As another example, it’s okay if he wants to stay up late and you want to go to sleep early; the later person just has to be altruistic in terms of their actions late at night when the early bird is sleeping. One person isn’t absolutely right and the other absolutely wrong.

With your daughter who’s trying to figure out how to make and keep friends, the same general process applies. The four rules will help her. She can talk to her peers about whatever topic she thinks might be interesting to them. If they don’t seem interested, she can change topics. Or notice if they don’t seem interested in talking at that time – maybe they’re busy with something else then, and she should just be with them enjoying the experience they’re having at that time.

I once went to a play with someone who talked to me throughout the ride to the play and throughout the entire performance. She wasn’t aware of what I wanted – namely, to enjoy the performance next to her, without her talking to me the entire time. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to her; I just didn’t want to talk to her then.

Your daughter might need help recognizing the social cues of her peers. She might benefit from speaking to the guidance counselor or social worker at school; the counselor can help your daughter understand what her classmates are feeling or what they might want from her socially. You can’t imagine all the social situations, but an intuitive person who interacts with the students daily can. If these friends are not in your daughter’s school setting, then you can have you daughter meet with a social worker, even not in her school, who can generally and globally help her notice and respond appropriately to other people’s social cues.

Your daughter can figure out what to say to the other kids her age by listening to what they’re talking about, and chiming in when she has a thought to contribute. She also can compliment them on their clothes (“I like your belt!”), their performance (“Nice kick in kickball today!”), invite them to do an activity with her (“You want to hang out tomorrow after school?”), or asking them what they like or don’t like (“How did you like that movie?”).

It seems to me that your daughter would benefit from a few sessions with a therapist to help her feel comfortable and confident and capable in social situations. If you send her now, at age 13, you will be helping her gain a skill which she can then use for the rest of her life, with her friends now, with future friends, with her eventual spouse, with her future co-workers, with her future children…. Good therapists can help people a lot!

So to get a good friend, be a good friend. Definitely don’t scream or yell or curse. Be kind, gentle, thoughtful, respectful. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to figure out what they’re thinking and feeling, and then respond appropriately to that. If you need help with any part of that process, see a good therapist who can help you.