Healthy social skills for teens are an essential component for entering adulthood. As teenagers transition from high school to university, they develop a more permanent circle of peers. However, navigating social situations can be tricky, especially for shy teenagers or individuals with low self-esteem.
Thus, social skills training for teens is critical to future success and positive interpersonal relationships.
Why are Social Skills Important for Teens?
A person’s teenage years are critical for personal development. Healthy social skills matter because they:
- Help build meaningful friendships. When teenagers practice social skills, they develop deeper, more meaningful friendships with peers they trust. Expressing themselves clearly and listening actively makes them better equipped to navigate social situations involving others.
- Allow for peaceful conflict resolution. Teenagers with excellent social skills can solve problems constructively and without being argumentative. They won’t need to escalate disagreements because they can understand opposing perspectives.
- Make teens more adaptable. Things won’t always turn out how we expect—especially in a teenager’s life. Social skills enable teens to handle new situations comfortably and confidently.
- Help build confidence. Teenagers with healthy social skills are confident in their decisions, beliefs, and values. They are more likely to assert themselves, pursue opportunities, and engage in social settings.
- Improve mental health. Good social skills make teenagers feel more connected to others, inadvertently improving their mental health. Equipped with good communication skills, teenagers can navigate stress, anxiety, and depression better.
What are Important Social Skills Teens Need to Develop?
Not all teenagers are social butterflies. However, developing these specific social skills can make them more confident, self-assured, and mentally well:
- Empathy. Understanding others’ emotions and perspectives can help teenagers relate to others better, resulting in more trusting and meaningful relationships.
- Problem-solving. Teens who can analyze situations, identify problems, and generate potential solutions effectively can navigate social challenges better.
- Body language. It can be challenging to pick up on what someone else isn’t conveying verbally. Anxious teens tend to have “closed” body language, signaling to someone that they are unapproachable [*]. Understanding body language can equip teenagers to pick up on social signals and respond empathetically to others.
- Active listening. Teenagers are often criticized for being terrible listeners—but they aren’t! With some practice, teenagers can quickly become intuitive, picking up on changes in tone and mood.
- Teamwork and collaboration. Learning to work effectively in a team, share responsibilities, and collaborate toward common goals can make them more successful academically and professionally.
Signs a Teen May Be Struggling with Social Skills
There are a few signs a teenager might need to work on their social skills. Here are a few red flags to watch for:
- They don’t seem to enjoy socializing with others.
- They’re having trouble making friends.
- They frequently get into arguments with peers and siblings.
- They struggle to communicate effectively.
- They limit their eye contact and body language.
- They are insensitive to others’ feelings and have difficulty understanding others’ perspectives.
- They have low self-esteem and confidence.
- They spend excessive time alone and withdraw from previously enjoyed social activities.
- They prefer digital communications to face-to-face interactions.
How to Improve Social Skills for Teens
A socially anxious teenager isn’t a lost cause. Here are a few ways to impart healthy social skills to your teenager.
Model healthy social interactions
A parent, teacher, or caregiver is often a teenager’s primary role model. Demonstrating healthy social interactions will naturally inspire teenagers to follow suit.
For instance, when visiting the grocery store, interact with the staff and other people shopping. If you’re traveling with family, talk to the locals. Be friendly and polite, encouraging your teenager to join the conversation.
Help your teen understand their emotions
Some teenagers may seem socially inept because they struggle to identify and understand their emotions. It all starts with providing teenagers with a safe space to express their emotions. Reassure them that there is no judgment and that their feelings are valid.
Is your teenager a voracious reader? These social skills books can help impart valuable knowledge about their emotions!
Remember, this isn’t an overnight process—it could take time! Use our step-by-step guide on managing emotions to practice regulation with your teenager.
Get your teenager involved in extracurricular activities
Enrolling in extracurricular activities like sports and clubs can encourage teenagers to make new friends, build confidence in their skills, and discover what they love.
Underscore the importance of working with others toward a common goal—winning is just a welcome bonus!
Consider other volunteer opportunities or non-school-affiliated organizations like church or community groups if your teenager is interested in something beyond what their school can provide.
Expand your teenager’s media literacy
In today’s digital age, social media etiquette and literacy play a significant role in a teenager’s development and self-discovery. Help your child translate their social skills into the digital sphere by explaining concepts like oversharing. Ensure your child learns and practices the appropriate personal boundaries online, keeping specific details private.
Set ethical guidelines for sharing information about others and discuss concerns about the artificial perfection portrayed online.
Practice conversational skills
Perfecting the art of conversation requires practice. Encourage your teenagers to greet at least five people daily—they can be anyone, including family members, teachers, and peers.
Brainstorm small talk topics like classes, pop culture, entertainment, or books. Reinforce that good conversations don’t have to be “deep.” As long as your teenager leaves a conversation feeling fulfilled and acknowledged, there’s no harm in having lighthearted chats!
Enlist help from others
Getting help can be daunting, but if your teenager isn’t getting along with their peers, consider mentorship from a licensed therapist or trusted adult. A teacher, coach, or therapist can provide feedback on your teenager’s social interactions and progress.
In particular, experienced therapists or mentors can provide individualized social skills training and coping strategies for social anxiety. According to research, social skills training is most effective with other programs like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy [*].
The Bottom Line
All teenagers experience social struggles, but developing the appropriate conversation skills isn’t impossible—it just takes time!
Using social skills worksheets, getting professional help, and seeking social opportunities through clubs and organizations are all excellent ways to improve social skills in teens.
- Gilboa–Schechtman E, Shachar-Lavie I. “More than a face: a unified theoretical perspective on nonverbal social cue processing in social anxiety.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2013.
- Beidel DC, Alfano CA, Kofler M, Rao PA, Scharfstein L, Nina Wong Sarver. “The impact of social skills training for social anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2014.