A father of thirteen-year-old identical twin boys contacted me about one of his sons. He and his wife decided to send the boys to different middle schools to give them the individual experiences that both were lacking up to that point. However, after more than four months at their respective schools, one son was thriving while the other was not. Tom loved school, felt engaged and energized, and enthusiastically shared what he was learning when his parents picked him up from school. On the other hand, Sam entered and left school with a lackadaisical, affectless demeanor and told his parents that that school was okay. Given this huge discrepancy in their experiences, their dad wondered if moving Sam to Tom’s school would resolve the issue.
When I inquired further about Sam’s personality and temperament, his parents described a youngster who seemed depressed, dissociated, or passive. Although he does not often talk about his feelings, Sam mentioned a few times that he felt overwhelmed. In fact, his baseball coach recently said that Sam seemed unmotivated and uninterested when he attended practice. When his parents asked him why he acted disinterested, he replied that he was overwhelmed.
Discerning a youngster’s emotional life through a telephone call is difficult, especially if the parents are the sole reporting figures. Parents often downplay issues because acknowledging their child’s suffering is painful. Based on the information I heard, I told the parents that Sam does seem upset. I advised that instead of changing Sam’s external situation, the parents should seek counseling from a seasoned child psychotherapist to work through his present apathy.
Certainly, aspects of Sam’s difficulties may be related to his twinship. The father mentioned that his mother-in-law once observed that Sam was Tom’s wingman. Also, a fleeting reference indicated that Sam tends to overeat to self-soothe; hence, a significant weight difference exists between the boys. While the twin connection can be scrutinized for contributing to Sam’s current problems, the more important issue is Sam’s emotional state. Placing him back in school with his effervescent twin would be an ill-advised and unrealistic quick fix that might further jeopardize his psychological well-being.