As adults, our social skills are so ingrained in our daily lives that we often don’t think twice about what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.
Whether we’re introducing two people, interacting with the cashier at the grocery store or showing empathy toward a friend who’s been sick, our social skills have been fine-tuned enough through the years that it almost comes naturally.
Our teens, on the other hand, haven’t had quite the experience we’ve had.
Perhaps, through no fault of their own, they simply haven’t had the opportunity to polish those skills the way we did when we were growing up.
Unlike us, our kids are growing up with a screen in their hands which experts agree is taking its toll on their social skills.
Texting rather than in-person interaction and having the ability to connect and chat via social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok are making it far too easy for our kids to forego face-to-face interaction altogether.
But, not only can our kids benefit from having a few important social and communication skills under their belt now, their future success in life largely depends on how well they harness those skills as they move into adulthood. Everything from their career to future relationships will be impacted by their social skills and their ability to effectively interact with others.
Social skills aren’t something our kids are born with – they need to be taught. Don’t send your child into the world without passing along these important social skills you need to teach your teen now.
1. Making Eye Contact
Making eye contact with people is undoubtedly one of the most important social skills, yet teenagers are notorious for avoiding eye contact. Phone distractions, shyness, indifference, low self-esteem or perhaps they’re not in the best of mood – there are plenty of reasons why some teens avoid looking others in the eye. Quite often, though, they simply don’t realize what they’re doing (or, in this case, not doing) and they need a gentle nudge to be reminded.
Although making eye contact is one of the more important social skills you need to teach your teen, it doesn’t come easy for all teens. If your teen finds making appropriate eye contact stressful or even anxiety-inducing, here are a few tips to help them get the hang of it.
- Use the 50/70 rule. Try to hold eye contact 50 percent of the time when you’re talking and 70 percent of the time when listening. (Don’t get too mathematical with this… it’s just a rule of thumb.)
- Another trick is to try to hold eye contact for about five to ten seconds at a time. Then, casually look off to the side for a few seconds before resuming eye contact.
- When looking away, be sure to look away slowly. Looking away too quickly (darting your eyes) can make you appear nervous or shy.
2. How to Address People by Name
For the last several years, our kids may have gotten by greeting their friends (and possibly others) with a “Wassup, dude!” “Hey, girlfriend!” or “How’s it going, bruh?” But now that they’re getting older, they need to step up their social game. Whether they’re interacting with a teacher, college professor or their friend’s parents, they need to know how to properly address people by name and use those names when making introductions.
A person’s name is the greatest connection they have to their individuality. When our kids make it a point to first, remember someone’s name and then address them by their name, it not only makes the person feel special, it also makes a great impression.
3. Reciprocal Conversation Skills
Getting our kids to master the art of communication might take a bit of practice. To make it easy, they can start by practicing a few simple question and answer skills. One of the basic rules of communication is to kick back a question after a question. In other words, if someone asks, “How are you today,” our kids should respond with “I’m great, how are you?” Another example is if someone says, “Do you have any big plans for summer break?” Our kids could respond by saying, “Yes, we’re heading to the beach… how about you? What are your plans for summer?”
While this may not hold true in every instance, (overdo it and it could get a little weird), the general rule of thumb is to show just as much interest in others as they show in you. (What’s even better is for our kids to show interest in others first!)
4. How to Interact with Adults
Other than parents, family, and the occasional one-on-one teacher interaction, our kids may not have had a ton of experience dialoguing with adults. So, naturally, when they’re faced with having a conversation with their friend’s parents, a college professor or their new boss at work, their insecurity shines through.
Practice makes perfect. Sure, they might fumble their way through and stutter a bit as they gain their confidence, but the more adult connections we encourage our kids to have, the more they’ll begin to hone in on their communication skills. With practice, they’ll begin to put a halt to the fear and intimidation of chatting with adults, bridge the age gap and learn to act more socially adult.
5. Reading Body Language (to Avoid Awkward Situations)
Facial expressions and body language – the things we’re not conveying verbally – can speak volumes about what we’re thinking and feeling and what others are thinking or feeling. Not only do our kids need to get the hang of reading the body language of others, they also need to keep in mind that their nonverbal language is actually doing a lot of talking for them. In fact, some studies show that nonverbal language accounts for up to 60 percent of what a person communicates.
From folded arms, which convey being “closed off” and defensive, to facial expressions that hold the power to convey a myriad of emotions, our kids can benefit a lot by understanding a few nonverbal communication cues.
6. Proper Introductions
Most teenagers are notorious for making casual introductions. (“Umm, yeah… so, this is Julie. We have class together.”) And, for the most part, that’s fine in the friend world. But, as our kids get older, they’ll need to have a few basic “proper introduction” skills under their belt.
According to the Emily Post Institute of Etiquette, “many people think introducing themselves or introducing others is so complicated, they simply avoid it altogether. But it’s actually quite simple. It all boils down to speaking to the person you wish to honor first.” For example, if you’d like to introduce your college roommate to your grandmother, turn to your grandma and say, “Grandma, I’d like you to meet my roommate, Andrea Smith.” Then, turn to Andrea and say, “Andrea, this is my grandma, Mrs. Reynolds.”
As a general rule of thumb, proper introductions should always be made when you’re with adults including parents and grandparents (and other family members), teachers, co-workers, bosses, etc. (Hint: don’t forget to make eye contact when making proper introductions.)
7. The Ability to Listen… Really Listen
If we’re being totally honest here, most teenagers aren’t good listeners. In fact, most of them are terrible listeners. However, it’s not really their fault. Chances are, no one taught them how to listen. What they’ve learned, by following in the footsteps of others, is that listening basically involves passively paying attention just long enough until they can jump back in the conversation (or jump back on their phone).
But, listening… I mean really listening, is a skill that takes time to master. To be a good listener our kids need to put their phone down (that’s a trick in itself), listen to comprehend as opposed to listening long enough to respond to what the other person is saying and keep their opinions to themselves (unless asked, of course). Another aspect of being a good listener is knowing what notto say when it’s your turn to talk. Rule of thumb, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
8. How to Show Empathy
Most teenagers are totally self-absorbed in their own lives. The good news is, it’s completely normal. They’re going through immense change and being focused on themselves is part of the development process that helps them separate from us and form their own identity. The bad news is, it’s frustrating to talk to a teenager who doesn’t seem to care, which is exactly why they need to learn how to express empathy and sympathy for others.
This isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of teens. They need to be guided and taught to ask questions about other’s lives and offer empathy and sympathy when others share the trials and tribulations of their lives. They can also learn by listening and watching us. If they hear and see us showing concern, care and compassion for others and showing a genuine willingness to jump in and help, they’ll be more likely to do the same in their lives.
9. How to Make a Great First Impression
Do you know it takes someone, on average, three seconds to form an opinion of our teens when they meet them? In the blink of an eye, someone will size them up based on our teen’s overall appearance, body language, mannerisms, demeanor and how they’re dressed. And, once that impression is made, it’s awfully hard to reverse if it’s not favorable. The fact is, first impressions may not matter a whole lot when they’re hanging with friends, but they will when they get their first job, venture off to college and start their career.
Whether our kids want to make a great impression on a job interview, when they go on a date with a guy or girl they’re crushing on or when they meet a teacher or professor for the first time, they can start by smiling, dressing appropriately for the occasion (sorry, hoodies and flip flops won’t cut it in a job interview), being courteous, attentive, polite and on time. Being themselves (i.e. avoiding being fake) goes a long way, too, in making a great first impression.
10. How to Effectively Communicate
It’s widely known that kids today aren’t using their “socialization muscles” nearly as much as generations past due to their infatuation with mobile phones and social media. What’s happening, unfortunately, is that our kids aren’t gaining the valuable communication skills they need to thrive. Simple skills like engaging in small talk, managing conflict, reciprocal conversation and having the knack of avoiding long, embarrassing awkward pauses are a real problem for some teens.
We owe it to our kids to help them learn how to communicate effectively, both online and off. By giving them plenty of opportunities to put their face-to-face communication skills to the test – even if they fight us a bit – we’ll be arming them with the ability to think on their feet, pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues and how to really connect with others minus the stress, anxiety or awkwardness.