What are social skills for teens? Teen social skills include everything from making eye contact and carrying a conversation, to handling an argument and showing compassion for someone else.
At school, social skills like accountability and empathy are what empower youth to lead a group project or welcome that new student to sit at their lunch table. Building social skills is more important than ever after the past few years, with disrupted learning and isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic having a major impact on young people’s coping abilities, conflict resolution, teamwork and other necessary life skills.
Helping a teenager develop social skills enables them to envision and go after their own great futures by:
- Making and maintaining healthy friendships
- Learning to work effectively with peers and teachers
- Participating in extracurricular activities for stronger college applications
- Trying out jobs and growing in a stable career
- Forming a supportive network of peers and adults at school, the Club and beyond
- Maintaining strong mental health and positive self-esteem
- Leading positive change in their communities
How to Help Teens Struggling Socially
While socializing with friends is a key part of growing up, practicing those same skills in unfamiliar situations will propel teens to become socially amphibious adults – capable of engaging with new people and environments no matter where life takes them. That’s why it’s important for kids and teens to get outside their comfort zones, meet new people and try activities that empower growth.
For activities to promote social and emotional development, here are five opportunities for building your teen’s social skills.
Join an After-School Team, Program or Club
Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s 2022 youth data shows that 41% of teens ages 13 and up have trouble going along with other people’s ideas and more than a third get frustrated if they can’t do something their way.
Being part of an after-school activity allows teens to connect with peers who share their passions and work together to achieve a common goal. Joining a team or club that emphasizes collaboration over competition will also nurture stronger bonds among teens, motivate them to listen and communicate respectfully with others and be accountable for the role they play.
If your teen enjoys gaming, look into competitive e-sports leagues. If they write their own stories, check out their school literary magazine. They can also become a member of a local Boys & Girls Club and participate in programs that match their hobbies, like sports, arts and volunteering.
The satisfaction felt in doing their best, being praised for their contributions and sharing in group wins will provide higher incentive for teens to practice healthy social skills that will last a lifetime.
Connect With a Good Mentor
While on their own journey of self-discovery, teens often look to people they care about for inspiration. This might be an adult whose footsteps they’d like to follow, a family member they look up to or a peer close in age. Any of these individuals could qualify as a mentor to your teen by demonstrating positive social skills like:
- honest communication,
- good decision-making,
- offering and receiving criticism and
- advocating for yourself and others.
Mentors for young adults do not assume the role of a parent or guardian but rather as a trusted role model that supports them in setting and reaching their goals. Mentored teens can even pay their experiences forward by being a peer mentor, such as tutoring an elementary school student or serving as a camp counselor. These opportunities are mutually beneficial in that they give older teens a chance to hone their leadership skills and younger kids an empathetic role model to help inform their social skills development in adolescence.
Balance Socializing Online and In Person
Many teens emerging from the pandemic are still feeling disconnected from their peers. In-person conversations can seem daunting after so much social screen time, with youth needing to read facial expressions, body language and tone of voice in real time.
To strengthen these skills needed for social interaction, teens must build their confidence to engage with others both online and in person. Boys & Girls Clubs of the Capital Area mixed the best of both worlds by creating a TikTok studio that gives teens a dedicated space and tools to record their own TikToks. This update to their Teen Center fosters their teens’ love for making videos by enabling them to work alongside their peers to produce positive content that expresses themselves. Ideas like this encourage teenagers using social media to lift each other up!
Explore New Customs and Cultures
Another way to improve teen social skills is by helping them embrace what’s different as well as what they have in common with others. To inspire your teen to be curious, inclusive and accepting, open your household to experiences that teach these social skills and encourage the whole family to get involved.
Designate a day of the week to enjoy music and movies or cook a traditional meal inspired by a different culture. Discuss the lived experiences of other people and what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, the struggles they might face and what makes them strong. Having these conversations and experiences can help build empathy and understanding, as well as cultural awareness and acceptance. If teens are having fun practicing these social skills at home, it’s likely that they’re modeling them at school and in their community.
Find Purpose in Helping Others
Additionally, Greater Good Magazine reports that groups of teens are finding fulfillment in serving their communities during COVID-19.
By getting involved in their community, teens are given opportunities to rally together with like-minded peers and adults and feel good about making a difference. Distributing meals at food banks enhances their leadership skills while writing letters to seniors in retirement homes exercises their empathy by identifying with feelings of loneliness and offering support.
This trend is also seen at Boys & Girls Clubs, where 1 in 5 teens volunteer in their school, neighborhood or community once a month. Talk to your teen about causes they care about and look for opportunities where they can put their social skills in action to uplift their community.
From disruptions in their schooling to missed milestones like prom and high school graduation ceremonies, it is understandable why many teenagers may be feeling socially awkward after COVID-19.
However, being a teenager is also an exciting time where many begin to see the pathway between who they are now and who they will become. For those of us who care deeply about young people and their futures, helping a teenager with social skills can make all the difference in setting them up to become their best selves.