Social health is having healthy relationships with friends, family, and the community, and having an interest in or concern for others.
Your tween will naturally begin pulling away from family while peers become more important. However, they are still learning how to interact with others and your support and encouragement can teach them healthy ways to build relationships. Allow your teen to practice their maturing social skills, then provide gentle encouragement on what went well and how they might improve. Having a good framework of how to have healthy relationships with peers and adults can set them up for lifelong success.
Family InvolvementMaking time for family time is key in helping tweens build social health. Family engagement will and should look different for every family. Family time needs to be able to work for your family, but there are things that you can build in.
- Time for conversation, 10 minutes a day can go a long way.
- Watch TV or movies together and spend online time with your tween.
- Learn about and have them try to teach you their hobbies.
- Unplug as a family and do something together. Go outside or play a game.
Set clear boundaries with your tween and follow through with those expectations. While it is never fun to “be the bad guy,” your tween will appreciate it. Involve your tween (when appropriate) in setting family rules and consequences.
Adults can help tweens build relationship skills by role modeling and talking about what a healthy relationship looks like. Healthy relationships take work, but helping a tween learn what makes good relationships is a lifelong lesson.
It is important to remember that while adults have years of experience navigating relationships (platonic or romantic), this is new territory for tweens. Talk about your own relationship experiences & outcomes; share both successes and failures to help your tween appreciate how tricky relationships can be. Ensure that you highlight how you handled when a relationship ends.
Healthy relationships share certain characteristics that teens should be taught to expect. They include:
- Mutual respect
- Good Communication
- Anger Control
- Fighting fair
- Problem solving
- Being a role model
Think about your own social interactions during a day. It takes a lot of skill to navigate with family, co-workers, and strangers. These skills are often referred to as “social skills”. They are the tools a person needs to be able to communicate, learn, get their needs met in healthy ways, make friends, keep themselves safe, and ultimately develop healthy relationships. Tweens need reminders as they have new life experiences which social skills to use or build upon. Allow failure & coach them on how to resolve issues by focusing on their independent skills. Building these skills will take time and practice; however, you can be a role model and guide for your tween.
Encourage face-to-face communication and contact for your tween. This will help your tween develop skills to “read” people, build confidence in social situations, and help provide connection between peers and others.
Here are some tips for face-to-face communication. In a digital world, your tween may need to be specifically coached on these skills.
- Listen actively. Paying attention to what the other person says, acknowledging what they say, and stating it back to them helps maintain conversations.
- Give time to the person you are with. Limit distractions by putting down a phone/device and removing earbuds.
- Practice appropriate eye contact when engaging with others.
- Practice politely interrupting and disagreeing with others. This is an important skill for everyone to have.
Skills are commonly built when a tween has opportunities to engage with groups of kids through sports or hobbies they enjoy. Encourage tweens to become involved in arts, music, sports, or other hobbies to practice engaging with other tweens.
One way to blend emotional and social health is to share feelings with others. Try using I statements such as: “I feel __(emotion)__ when you _(_specific action)__ because __(effect)__”.
At times, getting a conversation started with a tween at times can seem impossible. Here are some tips on how to get a conversation started.
- Keep it informal
- Think about the timing. Immediately after school or an event may not be the time to check in. Explore options such as meal time, car time, or bedtime.
- If you don’t get much, try a different question or topic.
- Be comfortable with silence. Giving time for the tween to answer sometimes allows for better conversation.
If you are struggling to get more than a one-word response from your tween, try some of these questions or any other open-ended question.
- How was today on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific. What made it that way?
- What was the high point and low point of your day?
- Tell me the good news and the bad news about your day.
- What is a thought or feeling you had today?
- What was something you learned today?
- What happened today that you did not expect?
- What is a new experience you had this week?
- What is something you have done recently that you are proud of?
- How have you helped someone recently? How has someone helped you recently?
- What are you looking forward to these days?
- What do you like most about school? What do you like least about school?
- If your tween seems preoccupied; ”I’m wondering what you are thinking about. Would you be willing to talk to me about it?”
It can be frustrating when your tween won’t communicate. Be patient and keep trying. Research shows that even though middle school is a time when tweens begin to pull away, they still want and need your attention and approval. Being open, empathetic, and non-judgmental will most likely lead to a better outcome. Look over this chart and see if changing the way you talk to your tween elicits a different response.
Try saying/doing this:
- Tell me...
- What was that like?
- How could/would you do it differently in the future?
- Using humor (when appropriate)
- Reminding that failure is ok
- Name and ask about feelings "Are you feeling scared?"
- What are your questions?
Avoid saying/doing this:
- Stop crying or being upset
- Why did you...?
- What's wrong with you?
- Don't you ever listen?
- I told you this would happen!
- Don't negate their experiences or replace their experience with your own "when that happened to me, I sucked it up."
- Avoid putting your feelings on your kid "I bet you'll be mad if you fail this test."
Many parents have concerns about what their tweens are doing online. The internet is a vast place with a full range of content, everything from the positive and educational to dark and troublesome. Being aware of what your tween is doing online can allow for discussion and skills building.
Remember that not all time online is equal. If your tween is spending most of their online time on things like schoolwork, educational websites, and building healthy social connections, you may not need to be strict on time limits. However, if most of their time is on time-wasters, degrading content, or sites that lead them to feel bad about themselves, consider installing time limits on these types of activities or redirecting to more positive content.
Tweens and teens still need help mastering self-regulation. This can be especially difficult on social media, which is designed to be captivating. Monitor your tweens social media accounts and talk about the interactions that happen. Encourage a balance across all the things they do in a day, including online activities.