How To Help Tweens Survive and Thrive in Social Situations

Teenage Drama 101

Below you will find the top five most challenging communication scenarios faced by all adolescents.

And while the new school year may seem ages away, there is nothing more nerve-wracking than starting back in September with a new teacher, and a new group of friends, says Carolyn Davidson, Clinical Manager and Speech-Language Pathologist with Speech Therapy Centres of Canada. “Summer is a great time to learn, practice, and perfect social communication skills, so when you head back to school you’re more confident and prepared for whatever scenarios you have to face.”

How to make new friends. Whether you’re going to a new summer camp, starting high school in the fall, or joining a sports team, the pressure to make new friends can be overwhelming. How do you approach a group of kids who already know each other? And, how do you introduce yourself for the first time?

“To help teens navigate this type of scenario we begin by having them watch sitcoms to identify how the characters interact with one another,” says Davidson. The best tool a tween can be armed with when trying to make new friends is a list of “safe questions” and an understanding of how to use them. These are common questions like: ‘how was your summer?’ and ‘What type of music do you like?’ that won’t elicit an emotional response and will help kick-start a conversation. “Role-playing is the next step,” says Davidson. “The more these kids practice on one another, the more prepared they’ll be for the real thing.”

 How to ask someone out on a date. No matter how old you are, your palms probably still get sweaty when you remember the first time you asked someone out on a date.

“This is a huge issue many of the teens we work with face,” says Davidson. The first step is learning to read non-verbal cues to avoid embarrassment and rejection, she advises. “If someone is interested in dating you, they’ll likely ‘show’ you before telling you. Watch for body language and eye contact.” Is the girl leaning into you, or looking away, trying to find someone else to talk to? Is the guy engaged in conversation, asking questions or answering your questions with one-word answers? The next step is to ensure you know the person before asking them out. “Pay attention to their interests and try to suggest a date that you’ll both enjoy,” Davidson advises her clients.

 How to give a presentation. Do you still have nightmares about standing in front of your class trying to give a presentation? Most people get nervous before giving a presentation, so this is an important area to focus on.

According to Davidson, the key to surviving a presentation is to follow these steps in advance: Goal, Plan, Do, Review. Set a goal as to what you want to accomplish through your presentation, plan your main points and how you’re going to support them, practice for at least a week in advance, every day, three times a day in front of various sizes of audiences, gather feedback and then adjust your presentation and practice it again. “Our students feel more confident when they get into the classroom, because they’ve practiced in front of their peers and are well-prepared and well-versed in the topic they’re presenting on.” 

 How to communicate with an adult. Whether you’re applying for a summer job, looking to start babysitting, or interacting with a teacher, developing the self-confidence to talk with adults is an invaluable skill.

“We start by helping the students identify what type of body language and verbal language is appropriate depending on who they are speaking with,” says Davidson. This can be anything from approaching an adult and shaking her hand rather than giving a fist-pump or high-five, to saying “Hi, How are you?” rather than, “Hey, What’s up?” Davidson helps her students determine what types of questions are off-limits when having a formal conversation. She then helps them practice asking ‘safe’ questions and providing informative and polite responses to an adult’s questions.

 How to stand up for what you believe in. Many tweens face verbal bullying and feel as though they're forced to conform to the views and opinions of their piers. It's hard to stand up for yourself when you're trying to fit-in.

“The big thing here is to teach kids how to be their own advocates,” says Davidson, “and to help them identify what’s appropriate for others to say to them and where to go for help if what they’re saying is not appropriate.” Speech-Language Pathologists provide socially appropriate tools for tweens to use when voicing their opinions, and also help them learn to see things from another person’s perspective in order to avoid unnecessary conflict.

Carolyn Davidson is a Clinical Manager with the Speech Therapy Centres of Canada. After working with clients across all ages, she now focuses on the pediatric population, assessing and treating preschool and school aged children.  In addition to her clinical work, Carolyn has also been interviewed on speech therapy for various television shows and magazines.