Helping teens socialize

Dear Sharon,

Is there a particular time in a boy’s life when he should be developing social skills and friendships? Our 13 year old is a real loner, and I’m concerned. Should I be?

Dear Parents,

Young people develop social skills throughout their childhoods. If you are wondering about the seriousness of your son’s isolation, it might be wise to check in with trusted school or medical personnel to see if he could benefit from some extra attention or support to improve his confidence and the strength of his relationships.

I believe it is also useful for parents to support their child’s social development throughout their childhoods. Not every child is a social butterfly or at ease in large groups of people, but some viable social skills are an important part of a happy and healthy life at any age.

It is not always easy for parents to assist their teenager with potentially challenging topics such as friendships. Teens often have their plates full with the demands of hormonal changes, academic expectations, and a variety of peer pressures. A calm tone and patience will most likely be needed as 13 year olds do not usually respond well to an urgent or overtly concerned parent.

Here are a few strategies to keep in mind that can help:

Socialization

Try to have people over to mix and mingle in your home. Ideally any visitors, including children who are teens, but even adults or families without an age mate bring activity and personal contact. When people are around, try to help your son interact or at least be present for some group activities.

Listening

When a child is shy or awkward around others, it can help to listen to him explain what it can be like for him in a social setting. As adults, we are often quick to offer solutions, it is a natural response to hearing any upset from our child. However, listening is an invaluable tool, especially for teenagers who can easily become resistant to adult opinions. After listening for a while, mom or dad can make a suggestion or two that might help. It is important for parents to share ideas in a brief and relaxed format, and whenever possible, talk less then their child.

Exercise

Physical activity is also often an excellent antidote to isolation. Teenagers can be prone to sitting alone in their room or spending a lot of time in front of screens. It is important for parents to do their best (I know this can be extremely challenging) to limit screen time or move screens into a family setting while figuring out ways to get out of the house to move around. This may mean doing physical activities with your teen. A mom I recently spoke to decided to join her son in a daily “game” of backyard basketball. Even though her son’s skills were far better than hers, it helped strengthen their relationship, lighten his mood, and make the academic and social challenges he was facing much easier to tackle.

It is also important to think of activities that a child could do that would involve him in a social setting. Often teens enjoy talking to people with common interests. Finding after school or weekend activities that are with like-minded teens can help social skills develop.

Even though teens can act like they want nothing to do with their parents, moms and dads can make a world of difference in helping their child be more active and less alone.

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