During adolescence, social relationships are a significant priority for teens. Further, since adolescence is a period where teens begin to transition away from the family, toward independent living, learning appropriate social skills can set up a teenager for success. Additionally, teens with social deficiencies may struggle to form developmentally-beneficial relationships, which may lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor school performance. Whether you have a teen who is developmentally on target or an adolescent with mental health issues affecting his social skills, your teen may benefit from some at-home interventions, as well as professional therapy.
Model appropriate social behaviors. Parents often serve as the primary model for teens’ social skills. Elizabeth C. Hair, Ph.D., Justin Jager and Sarah B. Garrett of the children’s research group Child Trends state that “warm and responsive parenting” is one of the single most important factors in helping a child develop appropriate social skills. Thus, providing your teen with positive reinforcement, emphasizing her strengths and modeling constructive problem-solving skills, can help teens overcome social deficiencies.
Role play with your teen using social scripts. When we interact with others in the community, we use social scripts, or sets of norms, that dictate what we say and how we behave in a given situation. If your teen has a social deficiency, he might not understand what social scripts to use. Your teen can create social scripts that explore what he should do if he meets a new person, wants to apply for a job or order a meal in a restaurant. Your teen can then practice using these social scripts at home. You can pretend to be an employer and your teen can practice asking you for a job application. Reinforce these social scripts by asking him to observe your behaviors in social settings, then discuss later why you chose your particular set of actions and words.
Play "spot the error." Once your teen understands social scripts, asking your teen to critique inappropriate social behavior can be an effective way to help him learn expected ways of interacting in common situations. The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition suggests playing “spot the error” to do this. You and another individual could role play a common social scene, such as asking for directions, and commit a social faux pas. You would then ask your teen to identify a better way to handle that situation and discuss why this new approach would be more appropriate or effective.
Join a therapy group for teens with social deficiencies. As an adjunct to home-based skill-building activities, group therapy can be a powerful tool for teens with social deficiencies. Groups designed for teens with social deficits have two purposes: teaching adolescents appropriate social skills and then giving them the chance to practice these new skills with their peers in a safe environment. Additionally, by working with other teens who have social deficiencies, your child may be able to normalize her experience and see that she is not alone in her struggles with appropriate socialization.
Many community mental health centers and hospitals offer therapy groups for teens.
Communicate with your child's teachers and counselors regularly and let them know what you are doing at home to help your child resolve his social deficiencies.
If your child regularly displays any dangerous social behaviors, seek out professional help from a pediatrician, psychiatrist or professional counselor.