Parents of teenagers face all kinds of challenges in raising them and often must choose their battles wisely. While teenage shyness is normal, when a teenager can be found at home more than usual, away from friends, and is showing early signs of anger, sadness, or even depression, parents must take notice and act. Having a socially awkward teenager may appear difficult and hard to handle for some parents. But with the right tools and the correct approach, teens who struggle in the presence of their peers can be encouraged out of their shells. If you are wondering how to help your socially awkward teenager, showing your child grace, being open and available to talk, and encouraging engagement are a few of the small ways you can help them become more approachable and friendly.
Speak up, so they can hear you.
Teens have a lot to face as they get older, inching ever more closely to adulthood. High school, college prep or career training classes, sports or extracurricular activities, family expectations and chores, driving, developing romantic relationships, and weaving through social and environmental struggles of daily life can weigh heavily on your teen’s shoulders. It’s no wonder why some kids simply cannot handle the pressure and turn inwards to avoid the struggles of processing and dealing with those situations. Other kids may feel socially awkward due to physical or mental health diagnoses, their appearance, their background or family situation, or financial struggles.
Whatever the reason, teens facing the battle of being socially awkward need a safe space to talk it out with parents that can open their hearts and minds to what their child is saying to them. Now is not the time to berate them with your expectations. Listening to your child’s words is what is most important. Validating their feelings, allowing them to discuss what is bothering them and perhaps learning the origin of the awkwardness are all possible outcomes of these open and honest discussions. If the origin is sinister in nature – such as bullying – parents can address those issues in conjunction with attempting to breaking the behavior of social awkwardness.
Get involved and encourage them
If your teen is new to learning the necessary skills in their journey to tighter bonds with their peers — or simply needs a bit of a shove in the right direction – you can encourage them to speak up and engage with a friend or classmate before stepping into the unfamiliar territory of strangers. Utilizing an enjoyed extracurricular activity or hobby to seek out a friendship or kinship is an excellent place to start.
Your teen will feel most comfortable — and appear more natural and approachable — if they are doing or engaging in some activity that they genuinely enjoy. This can be a sport, a hobby, selecting a new book at your local library or catching some air at the skate park. Having a common interest with a peer or possible friend is important, as it gives them something to talk about, engage in, or actively do together while learning more about one another. By encouraging them to continue to be involved in their interests, you’re also encouraging the opportunity of possible friendships.
Take a backseat, and watch
So, you’ve spoken with your teen and have actively encouraged them to get involved with hobbies and activities that they enjoy, opening the window for meeting new people and making friends. They now have a safe and open space to talk with you and have a place – or places – to be themselves and enjoy what they love to do. And now, there comes a time to sit back and see what happens.
When it comes to our kids, parents tend to be less than thrilled with the idea of hands-off parenting. However, when regarding older kiddos and teens, there are many instances that using a “see what happens” playing card may benefit the parent, as well as the teen in question. Kids are intuitive and perceptive. If they are never given the chance to do things on their own, they will never know if they truly possess the skills needed to make friends and be a successful member of society. So, when all else fails, and you’ve properly prepared your teen as best as possible, letting go of the steering wheel may allow them the confidence to get the ball rolling on their own.
Raising teens, especially ones who may presently lack important social skills and who may be struggling with awkwardness, is no easy task. Just ask any teenager’s parent who is currently doing battle with these struggles. However, there is hope, and a chance for a more normal and satisfactory life if parents – and their teens – are willing to put in the work necessary to make such changes.
If you feel your child is struggling more so than usual, or you suspect depression or other serious mental health issues, speak with your child’s pediatrician or PCP immediately. Early intervention for any health-related crisis is of the highest importance.
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