Building Teen’s Social Skills with Friends
By adolescence, the time spent with peers is greater than the time spent with adults, including parents. Friendships are very important to teens. As they prepare to pull away from their parents, youth need the acceptance and support of their friends. In addition to offering general companionship, adolescent friendships help teens develop conflict resolution skills and provide stability during transitions as they have someone who is going through the same situations. Adolescents with good friends have higher academic achievement and self esteem, and they are less likely to drop out of school or get involved in risky behaviors.
Social skills are important to the development of youth. Less socially successful children can be aggressive, impatient, critical, demanding, or bossy. They may talk too much or not at all.
Children who are socially successful have certain skills:
- They know how to break the ice. They are comfortable introducing themselves or inviting someone to join them in an activity.
- They manage conflict well. They find ways to compromise, while standing up for themselves against unreasonable demands.
- They express interest in their friends. They listen, make eye contact, talk, and offer help.
Improving Your Teen’s Social Skills
While social skills aren’t taught in a classroom, parents can improve their child’s social skills with the following techniques:
- Set limits and ground rules. Well-behaved children are more likely to make good friends.
- Role model being a good friend to others.
- Encourage participation in new groups. Getting involved in activities is a great way to meet people with similar interests.
- Gently point out behavior or attitudes that may turn potential friends away. Remind him or her of the importance of a friendly smile and eye contact.
- Talk to your child about what qualities a good friend possesses. True friends are honest, supportive, trustworthy, caring, a good listener, loyal, and forgiving. Your teen should expect this type of treatment from their friends and offer the same treatment to their friends.
- Occasionally include your teen’s friends in family outings or game nights.
As you probably know, teenagers are on an emotional roller coaster. They can overreact, be moody, and sometimes be difficult to be around, all of which can cause bumps in their friendships. Do not be surprised that adolescents experience drama in their interactions that would be unheard of in the adult world. When your child’s relationships get volatile, the key is help your teen deal responsibly with her emotions (i.e. expressing her feelings rather than taking an action of revenge). Encourage your teen to understand the problem from the friend’s point of view and brainstorm possible solutions.
Signs of Pitfalls
Unfortunately, your teen can become involved in a toxic friendship without even realizing it. Be sure to inform your child that true friends will make them feel good about themselves. If your teen becomes involved with someone who teases, belittles, gossips about, competes with, tries to control, and/or lies to your child, advise them about “frenemies” and help them distance themselves from that relationship. If this is your situation, please read our previous blog: Teenage Frenemies.
Healthy friendships are a joy and vitally important during adolescence. However, while parents may want their teen to have those healthy relationships, they should also encourage their child to have a mind of their own. This will help them successfully navigate peer pressure and manage conflict. Be careful that you don’t push your teen to join a certain group of friends, or take part in certain “cool” activities, because you think they will be happier. Instead, teach your child that it is okay for friends to disagree or have different interests, beliefs, or tastes in clothing, music, and hobbies. Encourage teens to seek their own path and find friends that respect their individuality and are nice to be around.