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TL;DR - My son turned 18 last month. He is ready to speak when needed and almost never argues. However, he never discusses how he feels about things, what he feels about himself or the people around him. He is quite good in studies, has no physical health issues. I'm worried about his emotional health, though. Am I being unnecessarily anxious? If not, how to make things better?

Background - We are from India. My son finished his grade 12, and had things been normal (non-covid times), he'd be in college from August onwards. However, the entrance exams have been delayed till October, so he's still brushing up his preparation. Due to the pandemic his school was completely online last year, and so his communication with his friends has reduced drastically. He has a 5 year younger sister. Academically he has always been good, and has no physical problems either. He's not into sports since grade 11, but by observing others I have seen that's common to most studious children.

However, since the past few months, I have never seen him express his own feelings to us (or anyone else, for that matter, since he doesn't get much chance for outside communication due to the pandemic). His Dad (my husband), on the other hand, almost everyday speaks of how his day was, if he felt someone or something was particularly laughable, or frustrating, to him. I speak my mind out, even at the smallest things like getting angry at myself for forgetting something important. My son never does that. He speaks quite normally when asked plain facts, such as when will be his next xyz class, or what did they just say in the TV news. But he never shares his own feelings. He doesn't even display emotions, like an angry expression, a beaming smile etc.

He takes a very detached view of the world which often stuns me. Some example of what he says/does that I feel are highly uncharacteristic of his age -

  1. He doesn't watch news or sports regularly. If I ask him "Do you know who won abc match yesterday?" - He replies "Knowing that isn't going to help me in any way, so I don't care."
  2. He doesn't care at all how he looks, as long as it's decent enough. I see other boys spending quite some time with hair gels, fancy T-shirts and what not. He'll just wear whatever he finds. When I ask about it, he says - "I feel no need of impressing others with my appearance. As long as I'm fit and comfortable, I don't mind if people think I'm ugly."
  3. Suppose he and someone else (someone might be me or his Dad too) are disagreeing on some point, and he senses it is turning into an argument. The disagreement is on some quite trivial point - like what Uncle said last week on the phone, or general opinion such as the actions of some politician, i.e. some outside matter that will not change anything in our actions or lives, even if left unresolved. Natural human tendency is to continue arguing till we are able to convince the other person that we are right, even if we gain nothing by proving ourselves correct. But my son stops the discussion then and there. He sometimes even pretends to have been convinced and accepts the other person's word, just so that he doesn't need to talk about some unimportant point that they disagree about.
  4. If shown a photograph of a young couple of a beautiful girl and a handsome boy, the first thing he'd notice would be the flowers and hills in the background, and often their pet dog/cat. He'd prefer an afternoon walking through a garden and spend the night gazing at stars instead of going to some noisy party with his friends

Two or three people have told me that he's "wise beyond his years" but I'm really concerned about his emotional health. I don't want him to keep his feelings bottled up inside. I was even worried that he might be suffering from depression, but he shows no physical symptoms of that (normal appetite, regular sleep routine, same levels of mental concentration/capability).

Am I being overly anxious or are my worries valid?

If not, what's the best way to approach him about it?

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    You say "in the past few months". Has this changed, or has he always been like this? Aug 20 '21 at 16:51
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    @PaulJohnson He used to speak out his feelings quite freely (specially if angry on someone) till before his school and everything closed in March 2020. Since then, it reduced a lot, but even then I never heard him remark something like "I'm so sad that I lost my last year of school fun like this" (which is a common remark of most classmates). But in the last few months it has gone down to completely zero expression of feelings. It might be due to his exams getting delayed incessantly, but that is a common misfortune to all students.
    – Sunflower
    Aug 20 '21 at 17:09
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    @PaulJohnson Regarding his reactions I've numbered 1 to 4, I saw those characteristics in him growing a lot since a year before covid (probably around the same time his puberty phase ended?), and now he takes a completely philosophical, detached view to most things.
    – Sunflower
    Aug 20 '21 at 17:12
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It sounds to me like your son is discovering that he is a geek. Speaking as one myself, I'd view this as a positive thing.

What follows is a very broad generalisation of the geek personality. But if you've met one geek, you've met one geek. We're all different.

  • Geeks tend to develop strong but narrow interests, often technical or scientific in nature. Computing is a strong attractor here. On the other hand geeks tend to reject school subjects they find pointless or uninteresting. So its not unusual to see a geek get top marks in some subjects while failing others. They may also get into trouble for correctly informing a teacher that they are wrong.

  • Geeks tend to be very self-directed and unconcerned with "fitting in" with the rest of society. This can create friction when someone wants them to follow social conventions they see as pointless, but on the positive side they will resist peer pressure to do something unwise.

  • Geeks are frequently concerned with intellectual rigour and consistency. They reject loose and sloppy thinking, and mistrust emotion as a guide to action. This often leads to them rejecting religion. At the same time it seems obvious to them that everyone should follow ethical rules, although they may have idiosyncratic ideas about what those rules ought to be.

  • Geeks tend to be introverts. They find the company of a crowd of noisy extroverts tiring. As a result they also avoid team and spectator sports. They are more likely to enjoy sports such as table tennis, climbing and trampolining. These are done in small groups, and when you are doing it your focus is on your own performance rather than on working with a team against another team.

It may be that your son has always felt a pressure to fit in with the rest of school life, but given time away from school he has discovered that his own thoughts are better company than most of his schoolmates. School can be very hard on geeks.

Edit Some more reading

This section from The Jargon File describes a typical computer geek. The word "hacker" here just means a computer geek, not a computer criminal.

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  • Thank you. I did see him being quite irritated with rote memorization subjects like history and languages (nonetheless he gritted his teeth and performed well in those too) and seemed a lot happier after he took up science stream in grade 11. Neither does he follow any religious superstitions we elders follow. I will wait for a while to see if there are any others with different opinions before accepting this answer. I'd have upvoted for sure, but unfortunately don't have enough points for that.
    – Sunflower
    Aug 24 '21 at 10:19
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    @Sunflower Rote memorisation of disconnected facts in order to pass an exam is exactly the kind of thing that geeks find irritating and difficult. "If I need to know it I can look it up". Aug 24 '21 at 12:06

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