The Family Project members have several insights into your concern, but almost every member at some point repeated the same thing: Know your child.
As her parent, you are the one who can detect changes first. You know when she's hurt or feeling rejected by friends or concerned by difficult schoolwork.
This is the time to take charge as a parent, not to be a best friend.
Try to engage her in things you know she's interested in, says panel member Rochelle Freedman. If you know she likes dance, take her to a performance. If she won't go just with you, tell her to invite a friend along.
Don't automatically assume that she's taking drugs because she's not a soccer player.
Indeed, research indicates that most kids don't take drugs, says guest panel member Ann Adams.
''Sometimes we see the negatives and forget the positives,'' she says.
It could be that your daughter doesn't feel she has the athletic skill needed to join a sport, says panelist Latif Matt.
''Don't push her, she may be embarrassed. You're trying to build her confidence, not her ability,'' he says. You should have expectations and suggestions.
Our culture is one in which many feel you can't just participate, but must always excel, says panelist Denise Continenza.
''And that takes the fun out of it,'' agrees panel member Joanne Nigito.
But it's good for you to know the risks, and it's good that you are realistic about your daughter's behavior, says panel member Ann Friedenheim.
''Is this her nature? It's more of a concern if her refusal to participate is a change,'' she says.
Maybe your daughter is just more focused on her peers than sports or clubs right now, Continenza says.
If she's on the phone a lot, she could be figuring out relationships, Nigito says.
And if you or her father are very outgoing, or if either of you were very involved when you were that age, the divide between what you think she should be doing and what she's actually involved in becomes even wider, she says.
''Find out what's going on at school,'' says panel member Marcie Lightwood, ''Middle school can be a cruel place, and not joining up may be your daughter's way of withdrawing,'' she says.
And sometimes the schools are so big that there just may not be a role for her there. Maybe it would be easier if your daughter found activities within a small group, for example, your church.
Some schools organize peer groups for discussions, Nigito says, ''They can be very valuable.''
The tricky part is figuring out how much of your influence to exert, Freedman says.
Again, agrees panel member Bill Vogler, the suggestions should come in the form of what you know your child likes. She's not limited to joining the band or playing a conventional sport.
''What about fencing, chess or photography? It's true that the more 'assets' your child has, the lower the risks of taking drugs or drinking will be. But you also don't want to perpetuate the myth that you have to be over-involved. And some kids who aren't involved in anything are just fine,'' Vogler says.
Studies have shown that throughout life, not just through middle school, people who have interests and hobbies are more resilient and find more joy in life, Friedenheim says, acknowledging that the middle school years are tough ones.
''But it's still your right to impose a balance. She could volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter. Her interests don't have to be typical. Help her build her positive qualities,'' Friedenheim says.
Don't look for your daughter to be more mature or involved or more anything just because she's a girl, Adams says.
''We know that usually girls mature earlier than boys and are more outgoing, but that doesn't apply to all girls,'' she says. ''They, too, develop self-esteem and mature at their own pace.
A real cause for concern, however, is if you notice a change in your daughter's behavior.
''It's more alarming if you start to see red flags: if there's a rapid drop in her grades, an increase in secrecy, a change in the way she dresses or if you find drug paraphernalia in her room,'' Vogler says. That's an entirely different problem than not being a joiner.
Also, if your child's behavior — eating, sleeping, studying — changes and you suspect depression or social anxiety, you need to seek professional advice
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