How to encourage social engagment? Strategies for parents with non-social teens.
Photo by cottonbro studio
Teenagers are often stereotyped as being social butterflies. We think about the teen movies depicting kids that age with large friend groups, or involved in countless activities. You might even notice many of the students at your teenager’s school fitting those stereotypes pretty perfectly.
But, it’s not fair to group every teenager into those boxes. Some are more social than others, and some have an easier time making friends and getting involved in activities. If your teenager is non-social and doesn’t seem to want to participate in those things, it’s no reason to panic.
The most important thing you can do is to make sure they’re happy and healthy. Some teens just aren’t as social as others. Some might be withdrawing for other reasons, including mental health issues. But, if you’ve ruled those issues out and your teen simply has a hard time breaking out of their comfort zone, there are things you can do to help.
The importance of socialization
Socialization is important for developmental purposes from an early age. Socializing, for children, allows them to foster skills they’ll use throughout their lives, including problem-solving and resilience. Socialization also helps to boost self-esteem and overcome the fear of the unknown.
Fostering social skills is perhaps even more important for children with autism, especially if they struggle with communication, forming friendships, or even social cues.
Maybe your teenager was more social as a child and they’ve become more introverted and anti-social as they’ve gotten older. You might not think much of it, but socialization is just as important for development in the teenage years as it is in childhood – even if the benefits are slightly different.
Research has shown that teenagers who maintain positive social connections are happier and healthier. Not only do healthy social interactions benefit them, mentally, but they can also improve physical health. Socially active teens tend to have less stress, and they’re more likely to be physically active, which can reduce the risk of obesity and high blood pressure.
The significance of social interactions
Understanding how important social interactions are from an early age can help you plan and prepare them more often as your child grows up – even into their teenage years. One of the easiest ways to encourage more of those interactions is by hosting and/or attending events. Something as simple as a family cookout, block party, or birthday party can serve as a platform for socializing.
Most people probably don’t think of birthday parties as opportunities for social growth. But, with a bit of extra planning, you can encourage activities during the party that require socialization, including things like:
- A scavenger hunt
- Interactive performances
- Wilderness training
Getting kids or teens to work together in that kind of fun and relaxed setting can help them realize interacting with their peers doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary. If you see them excelling in that kind of setting, you can replicate it more often and you might even be able to help your child or teen discover a new interest or hobby that will improve their socialization efforts.
Finding the right strategy
At the end of the day, you can’t force your teenager to enjoy something they’re not interested in. Not all teens like sports, music, or art. But, don’t give up after one or two suggestions. Instead, try to incorporate different things into your teen’s day to determine what best fits their needs, wants, and interests. One of the best ways to do that is by encouraging them to spend more time outdoors.
Being in nature is a fantastic way to boost mental health. Some of the biggest benefits of spending time outdoors include:
- More energy
- Improved mood
- Improved sleep
- Mental restoration
- Boosted immune function
Go for a family walk every evening, or take a weekend away to go camping with your teen, and ask them if they want to invite a friend. Try things like hiking, cycling, swimming, or sports. Even something like fishing can be a great way to get your teen outdoors, teach them a new skill/hobby, and spend some one-on-one time with them to learn more about what they might be thinking and feeling. Fishing can be incredibly relaxing and provide an opportunity to give your teen the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone. Just make sure you’re prepared for the trip.
If you feel like you’ve tried everything and your teenager still shows no interest in socialization, don’t immediately assume the worst. As long as they are happy and healthy, there’s nothing to be concerned about. However, if you’ve noticed signs of depression in your teen, including extreme sadness or hopelessness, consider reaching out to a professional to get them the help they deserve.
Social engagement is important at every age, but it’s especially necessary for your teenager to know how to interact with others. It’s okay to be an introvert, and no one should be forced to get involved in activities they’re not interested in. But, make sure you’re helping your teen to strike a healthy balance both in and out of their comfort zone.