My Eldest Son Stopped Going to School; Being Called ‘Gloomy Introvert’ by Classmates Made Him Withdraw

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my 40s and I need some advice about my eldest son, who is a junior high school student.

Ever since he was very young, my son was a well-behaved, sensitive and serious boy who had some perfectionist tendencies. At home, he was cheerful and marched to the beat of his own drum, but at school he was apparently quiet and didn’t really stand out. Boys at school thoughtlessly called my son a “gloomy introvert,” and he stopped going to school.

My son told me that “school is hell and I don’t enjoy anything in life,” and retreated into his shell. My son has always refused to tell anyone when he has a problem. That leads to a cycle in which he bottles it up inside until reaching a breaking point, when he loses his mental balance, which is when people around him finally notice something is wrong. The same thing happened when he was bullied and did not fit in at club activities.

If I ask my son, he will explain the circumstances that led to this situation. My son has good friends and gets on well with family. How should I approach him when he bottles up his problems until things become unbearable and erupts?

— J, Nara Prefecture

Dear Ms. J:

As a parent, it must be painful to see your child refusing to go to school because other children considered him to be a gloomy introvert.

The fact that he felt distress because of thoughtless comments by others makes it even worse.

When children reach puberty, they generally stop talking about certain things with family. This can be difficult for a parent. However, the things a parent can do when their child is having a problem are limited. That is essentially because children must come up with a way to deal with and get over their problems on their own.

However, when your child was bullied at school, he decided to stop going. Your son believed that forcing himself to keep going to school would crush him. This means he can take actions on his own. He gets on well with his friends, family and other people who truly accept him for who he is.

As your son grows older, it’ll become increasingly important that he develop the ability to determine how long to silently bear a problem and the right time to take action against it. This is something he can only learn through experience.

It’s also important that you provide an environment in which your son can come for advice when he has a problem that he cannot handle on his own. I hope that you, as a parent, can build a relationship that enables your son to feel comfortable seeking advice when that time comes.

— Yutaka Ono, psychiatrist