Advice please, my 20-year-old stepdaughter has no friends

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QUESTION: My stepdaughter, who has recently turned 20, seems to have no friends and I'm worried.

Throughout high school, she had a few friends, but she always managed to get offside with them and now they've all gone. She does have a job, but she literally just divides her time between that and sitting in her bedroom.

Her Mum sometimes tries to chat to her about making friends, but she lacks confidence and always manages to find a reason not to follow through on suggestions we make to get her more involved in life outside the house.

She claims everything is "awkward" when she has conversations with people and so does her best to avoid having them.

My question is...where can she go to meet people? She has no hobbies or interests, which make things even more challenging, and she certainly refuses to go anywhere on her own.

ANSWER: This is no way for a 20-year-old to be living and sadly, I suspect there are plenty of people like her.

It's interesting that you say she had a few friends at high school, but always managed to get offside with them. She has clearly worked out a way to keep people back and keep herself alone. I would be worried too and I think your stepdaughter needs professional help. 

It sounds as if you and her mother are in agreement that the status quo is not acceptable, so perhaps the two of you can make a plan to get her help underway. I'd start with her GP to get an initial referral. It would seem that your stepdaughter has high anxiety and might need treatment with an antidepressant medication, amongst other things.

But in the meantime, I think trying to get her out of the house, talking to people or finding hobbies is clearly not working. But hiding in her room isn't good either, as she'll slump more and more into aloneness. 

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It seems the most supportive thing you can do is be with her – at home and in public. Let her trust that you won't be forcing her to interact with people, but she can go to cafes, markets, shops, walking or concerts.

If everything feels "awkward" when she has conversations with people, then let her stand beside you while you talk to people. Don't force to speak, just let her be.

Most 20 year olds living at home have to contribute to the running of the house. Perhaps you could encourage her to work alongside you, get her to contribute to dinner prep or cleaning up.

Small non-threatening steps while you get bigger help in place.

* Mary-anne Scott has raised four boys and written three novels for young adults, all of which have been shortlisted for the NZ Book Awards for children and young adults. As one of seven sisters, there aren't many parenting problems she hasn't talked over.

* Please note that Mary-anne is not a trained counsellor. Her advice is not intended to replace that of professional counsellor or psychologist.

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