How to Improve Social Skills in Teenagers

Whether they’re starting at a new school or adjusting to in-person classes, teens need to rely on their social skills to interact with peers and adults throughout the day. What are social skills for teens? Social skills for teens include everything from eye contact and holding a conversation, to handling an argument and showing compassion for someone else.

At school, social skills such as responsibility and empathy are what enable young people 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 recent years, with disrupted learning and isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic having a major impact on young people’s coping skills, conflict resolution, work team building and other life skills.

Helping a teenager develop social skills enables them to envision and pursue their own future by:

  • Build and maintain healthy friendships
  • Learn to work effectively with peers and teachers
  • Participate in extracurricular activities for stronger college applications
  • Try out jobs and grow into a stable career
  • Form a support network of peers and adults at school, club and beyond
  • Maintain good mental health and self-esteem
  • Lead positive change in their communities

How to help teenagers in social difficulty

Although socializing with friends is a key part of growing up, practicing these same skills in unfamiliar situations will propel teens into becoming socially amphibious adults – able to engage with new people and new environments, little wherever life takes them. That’s why it’s important for children and teens to get out of their comfort zone, meet new people, and try activities that promote growth.

For activities that promote social and emotional development, here are five opportunities to develop your teen’s social skills.

Join an after-school team, program, or club

2022 youth data from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America shows that 41% of teens ages 13 and older find it difficult to accept the ideas of others and more than a third are frustrated if they can’t do something in their own way.

Being part of an extracurricular 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 rather than competition will also strengthen bonds between teens, motivate them to listen and communicate respectfully with others, and take responsibility for the role they play.

If your teen likes to game, check out competitive esports leagues. If they write their own stories, check out their school’s literary magazine. They can also join a local Boys and Girls Club and participate in programs that match their hobbies, such as sports, arts, and volunteering.

The satisfaction felt from doing their best, being praised for their contributions, and sharing in group victories will further inspire teens to practice healthy social skills that will last a lifetime.

Connect with a good mentor

On their own journey of self-discovery, teens often look to the people they care about for inspiration. This could be an adult they would like to follow in their footsteps, a family member they admire, or a close-in-age peer. Any of these people could be considered a mentor for your teen by demonstrating positive social skills such as:

  • honest communication,
  • good decision making,
  • offer and receive reviews and
  • advocate for yourself and others.

Young adult mentors do not take on the role of parent or guardian, but rather that of a trusted role model who helps them set and achieve their goals. Mentored teens can even pay for their experiences by being a peer mentor, such as tutoring an elementary school student or as a camp counselor. These opportunities are mutually beneficial in that they give older adolescents a chance to hone their leadership skills and young children an empathetic role model to help inform the development of their social skills in adolescence.

Balancing online and in-person socializing

Many teens emerging from the pandemic still feel disconnected from their peers. In-person conversations can feel daunting after so much social screen time, with young people needing to read facial expressions, body language and tone of voice in real time.

To build these skills needed for social interaction, teens need to build their confidence to engage with others online and in person. The Capital Region’s Boys and Girls Clubs have blended the best of both worlds by creating a TikTok Studio that offers teens a dedicated space and tools to record their own TikToks. This update to their Teen Center furthers their teens’ love of creating videos by allowing them to work alongside their peers to produce positive content that speaks out. Ideas like this encourage teens to use social media to lift each other up!

Explore new customs and cultures

Another way to improve teens’ social skills is to help them accept what is different as well as what they have in common with others. To inspire your teen to be curious, inclusive, and tolerant, open your home 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 other people’s experiences and what it’s like to step into someone else’s shoes, the challenges 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 have fun practicing these social skills at home, they’re likely to model them at school and in their community.

Finding Purpose in Helping Others

Additionally, Greater Good Magazine reports that groups of teens are thriving serving their communities during COVID-19.

By getting involved in their community, teens have the opportunity to connect with like-minded peers and adults and feel good about making a difference. Distributing meals at food banks improves their leadership skills while writing letters to seniors in nursing homes exercises their empathy by identifying with feelings of loneliness and offering support.

This trend is also seen in Boys and Girls Clubs, where 1 in 5 teens volunteer in their school, neighborhood or community once a month. Talk to your teen about causes that are close to their hearts and look for opportunities where they can put their social skills into action to uplift their community.

Whether it’s disruptions in their schooling or missed milestones like high school prom and graduation ceremonies, it’s understandable that many teens feel socially uneasy post-COVID- 19.

However, being a teenager is also an exciting time when many are beginning to see the path between who they are now and who they will become. For those of us who care deeply about young people and their future, helping a teenager with social skills can make all the difference in setting them up to be their best selves.

Join the club

Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides mentorship, meals and meaningful life experiences to millions of young people across the country. Boys and Girls Clubs are safe and inclusive places where children learn, grow and have fun. Join us in our mission to help all young people reach their full potential:

About Bradley J. Bridges

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