Most parents want their teens to be kind to teens who don’t fit in. If your teenager teases a girl for her shyness, or picks on a boy for his tendency to rattle on, you should remind your child that not everyone is the same -- and encourage kindness. But when your child is the one who is socially awkward -- and other kids are picking on him for his habits or behavior, helping him navigate the social waters of adolescence can present a challenge. However, with patience, practice and perhaps a little professional help, your socially awkward teen can gain the confidence and skills he needs to build and maintain relationships with his peers.
Consider making an appointment with a psychologist if your teen’s social awkwardness is affecting her day-to-day life, recommends advice columnist Marguerite Kelly in a November 2005 article for “The Washington Post.” Knowing what’s behind your teen’s socially awkward behavior is often one of the most effective ways you can help her. Some kids have a condition called non-verbal learning disorder, or NLD, which can make it tough to read social cues or pick up on people’s facial expressions and body language. For other teens, social phobia -- strong feelings of shyness and anxiety around other people -- might make it hard to participate in everyday social interactions. Some kids might just not understand the unwritten rules of social interaction.
Help your child practice greetings, as well as starting and continuing conversations through role playing, recommends psychologist Candy Lawson in an article for the Center for Learning and Development website. Awkward teens might need help with the basics of social interaction, so help your teen practice making eye contact, smiling and saying, “Hi” in a friendly voice. Once she’s mastered those skills, help her practice the give-and-take of listening and engaging in conversations. Make sure she has low-key opportunities to practice her new skills. For example, you don't want her practicing her new skills by trying to initiate conversations with a large group of complete strangers. Also, make a point of modeling friendly social interactions when you’re out in public together.
Look for low-key opportunities for your teen to practice her developing social skills. For example, family parties and small gatherings of people your teen already knows are ideal. If your child is shy or awkward, your instinct might be to protect her from situations where she has to deal with other people, but overprotecting your teen can actually make her social awkwardness worse because you’re not giving her the opportunity to acclimate to situations and people on her own, according to the TeensHealth website. Instead, give her an opportunity to practice in a safe setting. Set a good example by trying not to show that you’re feeling stressed when your teen hits the social circuit because she’s likely to pick up on your nerves, which can make her more uncomfortable.
Encourage your child to pursue her interests. Awkward kids can bloom when they’re talking about something they love, so look for opportunities for your teen to explore his passions. Pursuing activities, whether that means board games, science-fiction shows, art or something else, not only helps your teen boost his confidence level, but also gives him the opportunity to interact with other teens who share his interests, according to the University of Michigan Health System website. Having more self-confidence and opportunities to interact with others can help him get more comfortable with social situations.
Be patient. Social savvy doesn’t come naturally for everyone -- and lectures, arguments and critical comments can make your teen’s social awkwardness worse, warns the TeensHealth website. Focus on positive reinforcement and skill building -- and don’t give your teen a hard time if he flails in a social situation. Instead, help him set small, reachable goals and encourage him if he has setbacks.
- Teens who feel out of place socially might sometimes engage in dangerous activities, like drinking, drug use or sexual activity, so that their peers will like them, warns Lawson. Be sure your teen understands that these behaviors don't lead to long-term friendships.
- The Washington Post: Socially Awkward Teen May Need Professional Help
- TeensHealth: Social Phobia
- Center for Development and Learning: Social Skills and School
- The Century Council: Dr. Wolf: How to Teach Teens Tolerance of Socially Awkward Peers
- University of Michigan Health System: How can Parents Help Kids with Poor Social Skills?
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