How to Help Your High School Kid Socialize
Parents and guardians can help their children socialize, though they need to do so subtly.
High school kids spend hours texting with friends and communicating with others on social media. This may be the perception, but many high school students struggle with socialization.
Fortunately, parents and guardians can help in various ways.
Who Needs Help?
“All kids may need help at different times in their adolescence,” says Jessica Golden, Assistant Director at the Academy for Science and Design. Golden has an M.Ed. in School Counseling and Guidance Services and is the head of her school’s counseling department and testing services. “If a student is going through a major life transition, such as changing schools, family tragedy, puberty, gender identity, they may need help with appropriate socialization.”
Some high school children want to socialize and be popular but shut down out of fear. “They may stay quiet in class and beyond because they are worried about being wrong or judged,” says Dr. Andrea Riskin, of ProPsych Associates of New Jersey. She works with teens who have anxiety disorders and ADHD. “They feel the need to be perfect, so they withdraw in order to avoid the possibility of being scrutinized.”
Why Is It Hard to Help?
When children are young, it’s usually simple for parents/guardians to step in and help their child socialize. Arranging a play date with other parents could happen in the carpool line or in the neighborhood.
By the time children reach high school, the mass majority don’t want their parents to set their social calendar. “It’s developmentally appropriate for children to exert a new level of independence and privacy during the early teen years as they are trying to figure out their identity,” says Golden. “If adults get too involved, children might feel they are not trusted to make their own social decisions or feel too much pressure and judgment.”
Even if children want help, they may back off due to appearances. “Some of it is because children want to appear cool, and society has made it taboo to have parents help,” says Tangela Walker-Craft, a former high school teacher and current blogger. “They don’t want the stigma of needing a parent to help.”
Watching your child flounder or not succeed to the level you think he/she is capable of is hard for a parent. “Don’t be hurt or devastated when kids are separating,” says Dr. Riskin. “While it can be tough to back off, it’s important to let them make mistakes and be there when they need you.”
Parents and Guardians Can Help
While helping a high school child socialize is challenging and different from when they were young, there are ways to do so.
Walker-Craft suggests parents/guardians make it clear that their children can bring friends home. As a mother of an introverted child, Walker-Craft also considered activities she could create or facilitate that would interest children her daughter’s age. “I tried to create something other parents and kids want to do so my daughter would be in social situations and organically have people there with whom she would have things in common.”
High schools typically offer a plethora of clubs and activities. Encouraging a child to join at least one such club/activity where they would be around others with similar interests is a good idea.
Sometimes, simply encouraging joining may not be enough. “Find ways to support this activity, such as offering transportation, being flexible with the family calendar, and empathizing with the difficulty of it,” says Golden.
The school itself also has plenty of opportunities for socializing. Golden suggests, “Reach out to a school counselor for support and information. They can help children who might have similar interests meet in an organic way.”
Helping in More Subtle Ways
The best help is often subtly given. Children may not recognize the assistance is being given and may be more open to it.
“Children are still watching their parents for cues,” says Golden. “Having relationships and modeling appropriate behavior such as showing and receiving respect and being mindful of tone is helpful,” says Golden. She also suggests modeling apropos boundaries with technology since she believes it has altered the way children socialize.
Being subtle also involves reading your child in an attempt to understand what he/she needs. “It’s important to touch base with your child, but don’t be surprised if your child rejects the inquiry,” says Dr. Riskin. “It’s developmentally appropriate to separate at this age, so when they are ready to talk, parents should be mindful not to pressure their child to solve the problem immediately.”
These conversations are not simple ones. “The conversation should include what is stopping them from socializing,” says Dr. Riskin. “Try to help the child come up with strategies, if that’s what they want.” They may simply want to have a conversation. “Ultimately how much a parent/guardian can help is related to how receptive the child is to make a change as its their agenda, not the parents’.”
Finally, Dr. Riskin cautions parents/guardians to “manage their expectations and to accept their child for who they are. Parents/guardians will be successful in helping their child socialize if they are seen as a partner or ally who provides a nonjudgmental atmosphere of acceptance and change.”
Many of us have visions of our children smiling with bunches of friends as they make their way through high school. This won’t be the case for plenty of kids, and that’s okay. Parents/guardians can still help their child socially, though the ways have changed.
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