Planning social skills activities for teens can be a challenging yet rewarding experience for parents, educators, and teens themselves. Since adolescence involves pubertal changes, peer pressure, independent thinking, and emotional sensitivity, it is best to engage them in activities where they can freely express themselves.
Because they are starting to become more self-conscious, teens often feel awkward and clueless when communicating with others. To ease their social anxiety, more creative ways should be considered when teaching them interpersonal skills.
This article lists 20 social skills activities for teenagers that teach them to interact and connect with others effectively. By encouraging their participation in these games and activities, you can help build their social competence.
What are Social Skills?
Social skills are any verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual communication abilities people use when interacting with others. They can be referred to as interpersonal skills or soft skills.
An interaction takes place between two people when there is a combination of any of these skills. Furthermore, it requires active listening, eye contact, and body language. It does not merely involve initiating conversation and responding.
Why are Social Skills Important During Teenage Years?
Social skills are necessary during adolescence as they help establish relationships with peers, handle conflicts, and build self-confidence among teens.
During this critical stage, teens can become sensitive to what their peers think of them. This can make them shy or come off as overreacting in their interactions. However, social skills training can help them avoid becoming anxious, defensive, or socially withdrawn.
Another reason social skills matter is that they allow teens to forge healthy relationships with other people. At a time when teens are learning to fit in the world, it becomes imperative for them to develop such skills. Making friends is a lot easier when teens know their way around people.
Social skills are also necessary when teaching your teens conflict resolution, especially since they can become more emotional and prefer to take matters into their own hands. To ensure they positively address conflicts independently, you should encourage them to practice social skills [*].
What are Key Social Skills for Teenagers?
Important social skills to develop include relationship-building, social awareness, decision-making, active listening, self-management, stress reduction, and empathy. Here’s what each skill entails:
- Relationship-building: This allows teens to establish and nurture bonds with other people, especially their peers.
- Social awareness: This entails sensitivity to people’s emotions and an ability to be considerate of others’ circumstances.
- Decision-making: This requires critical thinking and problem-solving ability to make sound decisions based on particular situations.
- Active listening: This is needed for engaging and sustaining conversations. But unlike mere hearing, it requires attentiveness, comprehension, and empathy.
- Self-management: This helps teens control, regulate, and direct their emotions when interacting with people.
- Stress reduction: This emphasizes composure, presence of mind, and self-belief which helps teens avoid overreacting or underreacting in their conversations.
20 Social Skills Activities for Teens
To make it fun and worthwhile, here are 20 social skills activities for teens that you can organize.
1. Getting to Know You Bingo
This game adds a modern twist to the classic bingo game, where instead of numbers, teens write down something about themselves in each square. It can be any of the usual icebreaker questions, such as their favorite book, dream career, quirky trait, greatest fear, and most memorable trip.
The game requires teens to mingle around the room, start a conversation with everyone, and find out a piece of information about them. Whenever they find something common with another person, they should cross off the particular square on each of their bingo cards. The first one to mark each square off will be named the winner.
Getting to Know You Bingo is often played during the first day of classes, making it one of the most popular social skills activities for high school students. Aside from teaching teens to initiate conversations, the game also allows them to learn from other people’s experiences and find things in common.
2. Emotion Charades
Another mainstay icebreaker game, this version of charades requires you to raffle off pieces of paper with an “emotion” written on each. You will then ask the teens to act out the emotion they picked for others to guess. The team with the most successfully guessed emotions wins the game.
Aside from improving teens’ nonverbal communication skills, this game also allows them to recognize different emotions that could help them develop empathy. For a list of “emotions” you can use for organizing social skills games for teens like this, you may refer to our emotions poster, which could help participants visualize how they will act them out.
3. Debating Workshop
Debates are an extracurricular activity for honing teens’ social skills. More than just being age-appropriate, debate is among the social skills activities for high school students that expose them to public speaking, conflict resolution, and leadership opportunities.
To facilitate this activity, assign two opposing teams of students. Pick from a list of debatable topics such as politics, pop culture trends, and social issues. Not only will these topics stimulate their logical thinking, but they will also teach teens how to control their emotions and adopt active listening skills.
4. Role Playing
Role-playing teaches teens how to use verbal, nonverbal, visual, and body language to portray the emotions and thoughts of the characters they play. It also allows them to understand themselves and other people from the perspectives of their characters.
Suggest scenarios that allow teens to improvise lines instead of acting out from a pre-written script. This way, they can learn what to say during impromptu conversations and develop a skill in reading social cues during real-life situations.
5. Speed Dating Using Conversation Cards
Unlike the original version of this social activity, the goal of speed dating using conversation cards is to train teens to initiate and sustain their conversations. Since most teens feel awkward when making introductions, this game can help improve their conversation skills under pressure due to its time limit factor.
Pair teens with one another (they do not have to be opposite genders). Write down conversation starters on cards and let each pair pick theirs. Using a timer, instruct them to strike up a conversation using their cards and keep it running for 10 minutes before switching partners.
6. Kindness Tower Using Jenga
This version of the popular block-stacking game helps your teens develop the empathy and social awareness necessary for enhancing their social skills. Each block represents an act of kindness that the players must do first before adding it to the tower.
Use the blank side of the Jenga piece to write an act of kindness on each, such as “lend your classmate your pen” and “compliment the person next to you”. Let each participant pick one and do what the block says before stacking it above the first one.
7. Emotions Game Using Uno Cards
This game encourages teens to talk about their feelings more openly. Since some adolescents may be closed off when dealing with their feelings and emotions, this activity allows them to express and manage their feelings.
Using cards similar to Uno, assign an emotion for each color. For example, red means anger, blue means sadness, green means calm, and yellow means happiness. For each card dealt, the participants must share an experience related to a particular emotion. Allow everyone to finish sharing before switching the instructions, where they provide tips for managing the emotion they picked.
8. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping as a social skill activity allows high school students to know about their classmates on a much deeper level, which helps create rapport and trust. Similarly, it helps cultivate a teen’s self-esteem as it reminds them of the unique qualities they possess.
Start by instructing the students to draw a mind map with three categories: traits, goals, and hobbies. Each of them will present their mind map to the class and let their classmates ask questions about the items they have listed.
9. Acting Workshop
Teens are generally more emotionally tuned to themselves than kids as they learn to explore different feelings and thoughts. Thus, an acting workshop can help them regulate their emotions in real-life scenarios, especially those that trigger defensiveness.
Give teens a line that can be expressed in different emotions, such as excitement, joy, sadness, anger, and fear. Each participant will comment on the performances and share tips to improve their speech delivery, gestures, and facial expressions to make the acting believable.
10. Volunteer Work
Volunteer work is the domain of social workers, which you can introduce to your teens to expose them to real-life situations in the community. Aside from allowing them to step out of their comfort zone, volunteerism helps cultivate empathy and social awareness. Their participation turns them into socially conscious individuals with a role to play in the community.
Research community service organizations in your area and enlist your teens in programs that match their strengths. For instance, those with a charismatic personality may serve in the donation drive as community advocates. Meanwhile, those who excel at cooking and handicrafts can be assigned to community pantries and livelihood workshops, respectively.
11. Pass the Ball
In this game, teens are encouraged to start a conversation with one another as the ball gets passed on to them. Participants take turns asking and answering questions until everyone in the circle has caught the ball. Throughout the process, teens learn to ask the appropriate questions by enabling their empathy and active listening skills to guide their conversations.
Start the game by forming a circle of around 8 to 10 participants. The first one to ask is the one who holds the ball. When they pass the ball to another, that person should answer the question, and the cycle will repeat until everyone has spoken.
12. Gratitude Exercises
Activities such as gratitude exercises allow teens to reach out to others and pass along the gratefulness they feel about themselves as acts of kindness [*]. Hence, ensuring they always have something to be grateful for helps activate their social skills, specifically empathy.
Teach teens to practice gratitude through journal prompts and worksheets that let them list things about themselves that they are thankful for. To make it more interactive, especially for high school students, allow group sharing where teens can learn to see positive things from their peers’ perspectives.
13. Pass the Message
This game entails active listening. Here, teens must stay attentive to what the speaker says to ensure the right message gets transmitted from one person to another. This helps them avoid conflicts due to misunderstandings.
To start, assign one participant for each team of five members as the one who will receive the original message from you. Think of a one-liner to pass along, such as “The cow is grazing” or “There is a fox in the forest.” The timer starts after you have whispered the message to their ears.
The participants who directly received your message must ensure that the message gets transferred down to the last team member in its original version. The first team to complete the transmission through whisper must yell the correct message. Whichever team gets it right wins the game.
14. Collaborative Story Writing
Here, teens will write instead of draw. However, they may not complete the story because each of their peers will have to continue what they started. The members must incorporate the thoughts of the previous writer when making their own sentences before passing the paper along to the next member.
The objective of this activity is not only to spark creativity but also to hone the collaborative skills of teens. Such skills are necessary when assuming leadership roles and mediating between peers. Also, the time limit allows them to keep their focus on the interaction despite pressures.
15. Scavenger Hunts
Scavenger hunts are ideal for strengthening the rapport among a group of teens. Instead of assigning tasks individually, you can make it more collaborative.
In this game, you will organize a list of items teens should find and collect without having to purchase them. They might need to obtain these items through creative and humorous ways, whether specified in the mechanics or implied. The first team to complete the items wins the game.
16. Team Sports
Unlike solo sports like golf and swimming, team sports expose teens to challenging social situations with their team members. These include basketball, relay, and dragon boat.
For example, basketball demands attentiveness from players when passing the ball and strategizing the next moves. The same goes for other team sports, where they require flexibility to adapt from receiving calm instructions to a more intense pep talk during the games.
Teens should be allowed to explore a range of team sports that complement their skills and similarly offer challenges in terms of growth mindset and adaptability. Ensuring they have healthy self-esteem before joining the team also prevents them from reaching a breaking point when the pressure to excel sets in.
17. Bonfire Nights
As a camping tradition, bonfire night is an ideal opportunity to engage teens in heartwarming stories about school, relationships, and their dreams. For parents and guardians, this is a chance to bond with their teens who might have been busy with study commitments and relationships other than family.
Plan a camping trip with teens and their peers where you can assign them to teams led by a tribe leader. This way, the daytime activities can focus on honing their collaborative and leadership skills before the evening sets the mood for more laidback campfire stories.
18. Theater Viewing
This activity exposes teens to creative expression and the reality of live-acting performances. Here, lines may often be improvised. It can teach them to be mindful of their choice of words, get creative, and be intentional in their speech.
Organize theater plays at school or visit the community theater once in a while to allow teens to immerse in the unique viewing experience. When the show ends, ask the teens to make a review of the actors’ performances and what they learned from them.
19. Art Classes
For teens who are less outspoken or socially withdrawn, activities such as art lessons can be a good starting point for self-expression. Over time, their artistry can be a conversation starter, especially when introduced to like-minded peers.
Conduct art classes or crafting sessions where teens can present their artwork to everyone and explain the meaning behind their designs. This way, they can slowly develop confidence in speaking for an audience while encouraging creativity.
20. Educational Tours
Educational trips, whether to historical sites or tourist attractions, can help stimulate social skills among teens. By exposing them to new surroundings and people, they are encouraged to interact with one another and even locals to enjoy the learning experience to the fullest.
Schedule a trip to the museum or a local tourist spot. You can pair them up or group them into fours and assign a leader who will be in charge of navigating the area. On the trip back home or the following day, ask the teens about what they learned from the tour and encourage further discussion.
The Bottom Line
Social skills activities for teens, while all about teaching adolescents how to socialize, do not have to be boring. While it is true that teenagers can be a challenging group to please, it is necessary to appeal to their interests, strengths, and potential.
Our list of games and activities for improving communication skills not only helps them have fun but also provides a meaningful learning experience.
To support your teens’ journey in cultivating their social skills, you may browse our worksheet and handout collections that help bring out the positive traits necessary for their social development.
- Parfilova, G.G. & Karimova, Lilya. (2019). The Study of Modern Adolescents’ Conflict Resolution Skills. ARPHA Proceedings. 1. 1433-1441. 10.3897/ap.1.e1361.
- Pang, Y., Song, C., & Ma, C. (2022, January 28). Effect of different types of empathy on prosocial behavior: Gratitude as mediator. Frontiers.