Friendship in the Teen Years for Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Walk down the hall of a high school between classes or visit a mall on a Friday night and you’ll see teenagers hanging out with their friends. Friendship is an important part of everyone’s life, but to a teenager, having friends and being accepted socially can be a matter of all-consuming concern. When students go off to different high schools, they often part company with their old friends. At the same time, social life in high school tends to revolve around new and more independent activities that may involve traveling around town and dating. Thus, teenagers who are visually impaired may face a new set of challenges in making and keeping friends.
Tips for Helping Your Teen Make Friends
If your child struggles to make friends and to be included in his classmates’ activities, it can be helpful to talk with his educational team members about specific strategies that you can use to help him develop meaningful friendships. Also, consider the following suggestions:
- Most friendships are built on common interests. If your teenager enjoys music, he’s more likely to make friends with someone who also likes music. Helping him get involved in activities or hobbies and encouraging and supporting his interests are ways to get him together with potential friends who share a common interest.
- Other ways to help him get in touch with boys and girls who share his interests include:
- Encouraging him to join clubs or informal groups, including online groups that focus on his specific interest or
- Sending him to a special interest program or camp, if affordable.
- Give your child opportunities to socialize outside of school. Suggest that he invite an acquaintance over for a movie night or offer to drive him and a friend to the bowling alley. If he has the chance to socialize with classmates outside of school, some of his acquaintances may become friends. When it’s appropriate, ask him to come with you to events or gatherings where other youngsters his age will be, such as parties, community events, or religious activities.
- Make sure your teenager has the orientation and mobility (O&M) skills to get to the places on his own where other teenagers gather. Social interaction at school is more likely to happen during the time between classes or at lunch, so he’s more likely to meet other kids if he has the skills to navigate the halls and move through the cafeteria independently. If he always has to rely on you for transportation to the mall or to a movie, your presence as an adult may put a damper on any conversation.
Help Your Teen Appear Friendly to Others
The teen years can be a time of questions and doubts for teenagers in general. Many worry about their appearance and any differences they have from other teenagers. This can be especially true for a visually impaired teen who may tend to focus on the ways in which he’s different. Your son may feel as though he’s the only one in school who doesn’t have a learner’s permit to drive, or he may be self-conscious about using a cane or about the appearance of his eyes. You can help him realize that each person is unique, with strengths as well as weaknesses, and that he’s not the only teenager who feels isolated. Sometimes negative attitudes can prevent any of us from making friends. When people are unhappy and inwardly focused, others may think they’re uninterested in socializing. You might point out to focus on others and showing an interest in them are more likely to appeal to potential friends. Here are some suggestions to help your teenager appear more open and friendly to others:
- A teen who isn’t able to see the interactions of others may not be aware of the many nonverbal ways in which people communicate. You can describe the ways you’ve seen other teens communicate and help him practice standing in a relaxed way, smiling, nodding, or gesturing when he’s with other kids his age so that his body language conveys his friendly interest in them.
- Humor goes a long way when it comes to making others feel comfortable about a visual impairment. If your teen can laugh about his visual impairment and the mishaps that are bound to happen and convey a relaxed attitude about it all, he’ll put others at ease, and they’ll be more likely to want to spend time with him.
- Friendship is a two-way street. Friends do things for each other and listen to each other. Your teenager needs to know how to be a giver, not just a taker, in a relationship. Help him find ways to lend a hand to another person, whether it’s through listening, offering to help with a school subject the other person is struggling with, or having you drive him and a friend to the movies.
- Give him realistic feedback about his social skills. For example, if you notice that he’s engaging in distracting mannerisms or stereotypical behavior while talking to another teen and that it’s making the friend uncomfortable, discuss this with him when the two of you are alone. He needs help to understand how his actions might affect other people.
All of us benefit from having friends. Though time with family is important, friendships give your child the opportunity to talk with others his own age and make emotional connections, practice skills he’ll use when dating, and develop behaviors that will benefit him in his daily and work life. Friendships are worth the investment!