When kids reach their preteens or teenage years, as a parent, you may wonder how they are handling their new life circumstances. Are they making friends? Are they overwhelmed by school? What is their social life like? Social competence in teens is an important issue.
For those whose kids may be shy, or reluctant to make new friends, the fear of rejection and bullying may be ever more present.
But for the so-called ‘popular’ kids, what makes them so? Is it really their clothes and looks? Their high skill in sports? Their outgoing personality? Their grades? Their good hygiene?
Well, some are in fact saying their likability may have to do with social competence.
Humans are social beings. And so, the peer support system that our teens have around them is important. Yes, your kid may like being alone, playing video games, painting art, or perfecting their musical skill. But that doesn’t mean they won’t need social relationships later in life. Learning social competence as teens is just as important as any other skill, we would argue.
Articles can point to it’s ability to affect mental health in adulthood. And, the social experiences kids have can determine whether their mental health is ‘triggered’, according to the nature vs. nurture theory. So it goes without saying that healthy social skills, and the ability to form social support groups, can go a long way in a child’s future.
We should make note that while this may be a common topic among caregivers of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other neurodiverse conditions, it is surely not exclusive to that group. Many kids and teens may need help developing their social competence.
What is social competence in teens? Parents and teachers need to understand it before it can be taught!
As you do reading on this topic around the web, you’ll notice that the scale of ‘normal’ social ability can change over time, and in specific circumstances. If your child is just shy, you might have nothing to worry about. Maybe they prefer one-on-one relationships with a few close friends. That’s ok. Don’t expect that social competence should mean being captain of the rugby team, or student council president.
Researchers have put together some expected behaviours that can determine if a child is socially competent or not. They can do this with surveys like this one, or by asking parents. Here are some examples of publications that address the issue:
In general, you can see some patterns emerge, such as:
- Being respectful of others’ opinions.
- Ability to ask to join in on play, and being a contributor, rather than overtaking the game.
- Following rules, such as in sports.
- Being helpful and accommodating to others, while also not being ‘stepped on’ in the process.
- Including others in games or activities.
- Aiming to resolve conflict, rather than promote it.
- Forming bonds with close friends.
- Accepting differences, such as in culture, or other diversities that may appear in a classroom, for instance.
- Having a sense of empathy, and emotional intelligence (which is related, but could go into another article on its own).
And so on. The opposite would be things like bullying, yelling, demanding, impulsive reactions, selfishness, or other characteristics we may associate with very young toddlers, who need to be taught that these are unacceptable social norms. Isolation and signs of depression can be symptoms of rejection in social situations, and as parents, we should be acutely aware of these signs. They may lead to bigger problems otherwise.
See related on our blog: How depression affects teens’ learning
Social competence can be learned!
As you can see, having the right social skills training while you’re young can help to promote positive relationships as an adult. This could affect work relationships, friendships and romantic relationships – all crucial aspects of ‘adulting.’
If you’re worried about your child, don’t be (at least not yet!). While you may feel that your teen is just ‘the way they are,’ it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. There are ways of teaching social competence, which we hope to delve into in a future article. If you do feel there may be a deeper problem, we would suggest getting in touch with a therapist or behavioural expert who may be able to make a professional assessment.