Whether you're moving to a new town, your child is starting a new school, or he doesn't have any real pals yet, making friends is a challenge for some teens. If your teen is struggling to connect socially, you don't need to take him by the hand and introduce him to his peers as you would a preschooler. Instead, you can encourage your adolescent to participate in school activities, join clubs, volunteer or involve himself in your community.
Boost your teen's self esteem; a healthy sense of confidence can help your child to get out there and start making new friends or to enter a somewhat scary-seeming social situation. Focus on her strengths and positive attributes, suggests the Cleveland Clinic in "Social Development During the Teen Years." For example, if your teen is worried that she is too boring to keep up in a conversation with her peers, praise her witty sense of humor and encourage her to feel confident in her ability to make jokes. You can also create an actual written list together that details her strengths. Write down adjectives that show off her positive qualities, such as: "intelligent," "caring," "generous" or "always willing to lend a helping hand to someone in need."
Find a club or other extracurricular activity for your teen to join. Ask the school for a list of offerings. Go through the list with your child, letting him tell you what looks interesting. Encourage him to pick a club or activity that he truly likes or enjoys. This allows him to meet like-minded peers with whom he can eventually become friends. For example, if he is constantly sketching at home or seems to enjoy visiting the museum, suggest that he join the school's art club. If your teen shows an interest in a specific school subject, find out if he can join an activity at school such as the mathletes or a foreign language club, or have him participate in a collaborative science fair project with members of his biology class.
Connect your teen with a volunteer organization. Even though helping out or working for a cause is the main focus of volunteer activities, they also provide a social backdrop for meeting new friends. Volunteering in a group situation provides an opportunity for your teen to meet new kids who share similar interests, according to "Youth and Volunteering," as published by United Way. Opportunities for volunteer work include -- but are not limited to -- housing those who are less fortunate through Habitat for Humanity's youth programs, working on a political campaign, planting a garden at school or a local green space or sorting clothes for a homeless shelter.
Get your teen involved in your community. Aside from volunteering activities such as park cleanups or helping out at the town's food pantry, suggest that your teen meet other kids at the local community center. Check out teen nights or adolescent sports programs. These group and team activities offer the chance to socialize with other teens who live nearby, and may -- or may not -- go to your child's school.
Role-play social situations, suggests psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore in "How Children Make Friends (Part 1)" on the Psychology Today website. If your teen is socially awkward or anxious about making friends, try a "dry run" in a no-pressure situation. Pretend that you are a potential friend and have a conversation with your teen. Give her suggestions on discussion topics or ways to break the ice. For example, pretend that you are a classmate sitting in the cafeteria and have your teen come up to you and sit down. Encourage her to strike up a conversation about a class that they have together or an upcoming event such as a school dance.
- Don't act overprotective or try to shelter your teen from making mistakes. While it's tempting to make decisions for your teen, you can't hold his hand in every social situation. Even though you may want him to make friends, he may still falter at times. Although a social fail is distressing, praise your child's efforts and help him learn a lesson.
- Avoid pushing your teen to befriend kids just because they are "cool" or popular. These aren't your friends; they are his. With that in mind, he needs to feel comfortable around them and forge friendships out of mutual interests and not superficial ideals.
Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.
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