Parent
Toolkit

Featured Topics

High School Relationship Skills

The ability to maintain healthy relationships with diverse individuals and groups helps contribute to a person’s overall success. The following featured topics - social skills, trust, relationships with parents and peers, and collaboration and group work - will allow you to learn more about the intricacies of social interactions and relationships.
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Good social skills involve polite behaviors like greeting others, shaking hands, maintaining eye contact, taking turns, listening, and saying “please” and “thank you.” They also involve helping others, knowing how to behave in a variety of settings and applying proper etiquette in different situations. Manners and politeness can be linked to social success and to a person’s sense of respect for themselves and others. During the high school years, your teen may not fully understand the importance of good social skills, but if you talk to him regularly about the benefits of being polite, he will be better-able to see how his social graces contribute to his interactions and relationships.

Talk to your teen about his personal “brand.” People’s social behavior has a major impact on how they relate to others, and it’s important to remind your teen that when he is out in the world, he is representing himself and his brand. Personal branding involves considering your values and how you want to be perceived by others, and ways that you can live your life by those standards. Tom Hoerr, Head of St. Louis-based New City School, suggests that you ask your teen to offer three words that describe his brand. If your teen is receptive to this, ask how those words are different today than they would have been ten years ago. This reflection helps your teen think about maturity and growth, she adds. What does this have to do with your teen’s social skills? The way a person interacts and treats others is a direct reflection of their brand, and if your teen is courteous, kind and polite, he is positively influencing how others see him. Explain to him that by simple gestures like saying “thank you,” acknowledging a person’s ideas or holding the door open for them can create a positive impression. Discussing these matters with your teen will help him realize how important good manners are to his personal growth and success.

Work on the art of sincere compliments. Compliments are a perfect example of how a polite and kind gesture can make a difference. Try to find frequent opportunities to

compliment your teen, as this allows her to see kindness and praise in action. For example, if your teen passes her driving test or if she does well at school, point out how her hard work and determination made these things possible. It can something as simple as, “I’m proud of you for passing your driving test. You did so much to prepare for it, and you even missed your friend’s birthday party to attend driving lessons. Great job!” Talk to your teen about the impact that compliments have on others, and ask him about times he has received compliments and how it felt. Explain to him that many other teens are going through challenging times in high school, and that by finding ways to praise them, he can help them realize their own strengths and possibly contribute to their self-esteem. Discuss ways he can pay compliments without seeming artificial, and ask him to try to give at least one person a compliment each week. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis says that praise should be specific and include recognition of effort. Author Faye de Muyshondt suggests that you also talk to your teen about the difference between an inappropriate compliment, like commenting on a person’s body, as some words of praise can cross the line and make others uncomfortable.

Trust is the ability to confide and believe in one’s own abilities and those of others. Trust is the basis of every functional relationship. As your teen gets older, she is learning more about the role that this value plays in her relationships and finding ways to apply it to her social interactions and friendships. Your teen’s ability to trust begins at home; by providing a supportive and nurturing environment, you are showing her what a trusting relationship looks like and helping her form the foundation on which her future relationships will be built.

Show your teen the importance of trust in relationships. Making your teen feel that her voice matters and will be heard is a building block for her sense of trust and validation. Talk to your adolescent regularly about her social world and interests, and acknowledge her when she acts in a responsible and trustworthy manner. For instance, she may choose to stay home and study for a big test instead of going out with friends. If she does something to damage your trust, communicate with her clearly and firmly about why it is inappropriate, and ask her why she would do things differently in the future or provide her with suggestions about what she could do better the next time. For example, if she comes home after curfew and doesn’t answer her phone or return your texts when you’re trying to find out where she is, you can ask her to make sure to let you know if she’s running a bit late. Many teens are very concerned with their privacy, and if your adolescent comes to you with a concern or tells you something in confidence, try not to share it with others. She may not want to share everything with you, either, and unless you suspect that she is hiding something that could cause her harm, allow her to keep some matters private, as this will help solidify the trust between the two of you.

Talk about trust in relationships. You may also want to talk to your teen about the role that trust plays in her friendships and relationships. Discuss how important it is to be honest with friends -- and that she should expect honesty in return -- to help her define what a trusting relationship looks like. For instance, your teen may be upset because a friend shared an embarrassing secret with others. You can suggest that she tell her friend that she trusted her to keep that secret, and ask her to not do that again. This may also help her understand that she does not need to associate with friends who are not trustworthy. Tom Hoerr, Head of St. Louis-based New City School, adds that, although it’s obvious to adults, teens need to learn that lost trust can take a very long time to recover.

A good relationship is based on trust, security, and love. Nurturing these three values is essential to having a healthy relationship with your child. Even though your teen is becoming more involved in his relationships outside the family, it is still important for you to remain responsive to his needs and be there to guide and support him. You are your teen’s first teacher, and the relationship you have with him is the basis of his emotional and social development.

Have family meals together. Your teen’s schedule may be getting busier as he makes his way through high school, but it’s good to try to have family dinners together as much as possible. Research has found that when teens eat meals with family, they are more likely to get good grades and less likely to engage in risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, drug abuse and sexual activity. Try to set a time that works for all family members, and use this as an opportunity to discuss everyone’s day and open up discussions about important topics like friends, relationships, responsibility and important ongoing activities. Having dinner together is a great way to get everyone to check in, and it helps build a strong relationship between you and your teen. Education consultant Jennifer Miller suggests making dinner together and having every member of the family contribute by setting the table, providing meal ideas, contributing to a shopping list, cooking or cleaning up.

Find creative compromises and de-escalate conflicts. Maurice Elias, director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, suggests that you try to de-escalate conflicts as much as possible. Elias says that even though your teen may be difficult, you are still the adult and have the greater responsibility to preserve your positive relationship. Try to step away from conflict. If you feel frustrated with your teen, Elias suggests that you tell him, “I don’t feel that this is going anywhere right now. I need to cool down and think and we can continue this in an hour.” Not only do you decrease the risk of saying something you will regret later, but you also model a vital skill for your teen, which is to avoid making decisions in the heat of the moment. You should try to make sure that you return to that conversation eventually, as this will allow you to generate ideas together for a mutually agreeable solution.

Friendships and belonging to a group of friends are often the highest priorities for teens during the high school years. Teens develop strong social connections through their relationships with peers, and those relationships form the basis of how your teen relates to the world. These friendships teach teens about self-expression, social behavior, and how to apply empathy when dealing with others. High school can be a challenging time for many teens, as popularity, cliques, fickle friends, peer pressure and bullying can all be a part of their social lives. You can guide your teen and help teach her techniques to recognize and establish functional and healthy relationships.

Help your teen identify her social strengths. Confidence is one of the best tools for overcoming the difficulties of the high school years, and you can nurture your teen’s self-esteem by pointing out her social strengths. She may be a good listener, a loyal friend or a generous and empathetic peer. Remind her that being true to herself is very important and if she focuses on her strengths she can be more confident when establishing new friendships. This may also be a good time to talk about any social challenges she may be facing, like wanting to fit in with the popular crowd, being made fun of or not being invited to certain social events like prom or birthday parties. Listen to your teen’s concerns or problems and suggest ways that she can make healthy and responsible decisions when confronted by these issues. Also talk to your teen about peer pressure and bullying -- both in person and online -- which can happen regularly in high school. Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends that you try to provide your teen with assertive language to respond to bullying, whether it is occurring to her or someone else. A simple, “Stop being mean” or “Don’t put her down” said with confidence can be enough to redirect a peer without escalating it into a fight. Having discussions about these important topics can help your teen turn her social challenges into learning experiences.

Monitor your teen’s friendships. You are still a strong influence on your teen during the high school years, and this is especially true when it comes to teaching her how to deal with her relationships. It’s good to encourage your teen’s independence and friendships outside the home. Try to get to know her friends and try not to make quick

judgments about them. If you have reason to believe that she is falling in with a bad crowd, remind your teen that you understand her need for social acceptance, but that hanging out with the wrong people may endanger her or affect her future. Dr. Maurice Elias, director of the Rutgers Social and Emotional Laboratory, suggests that if you prevent your teen from hanging out with those you deem dangerous, you should explain your reasons why, but don’t expect your teen to understand. Elias adds that it's not a parent’s job always to make popular decisions, and you have to take actions when you think her safety is at stake. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis adds that you may want to be proactive and make your home a place where your teen wants to invite friends. You can allow him to play video games with his friends in the living room or den, a place where there is some privacy, but where you can still interact with the group by serving snacks or chatting with them when they arrive.

Set limits for your teen’s dating life. If you choose to allow your teen to date in high school, establish boundaries for what’s appropriate and what’s not. For example, if your teen asks to bring her romantic partner over to do homework, you should establish rules on where they can be and what they can do. For instance, they may need to stay in common areas of the home, or keep bedroom doors open. You may also want to take a moment to reinforce what you may have already taught her about sexual intimacy and remind her about the need for responsible romantic behavior. Having clear-cut expectations ahead of time is much easier than trying to respond in the moment.

The ability to collaborate well with others is an important part of life and work, and it contributes to a teen’s capacity to respect the perspectives of others, to solve problems creatively and to resolve conflicts appropriately. Encouraging your teen to participate in cooperative activities like sports, clubs, arts and music can be a good way to begin teaching him about collaboration. Make sure to find a balance between his activities, school work and family time. Try not to overload him with too many activities, as this can lead to unnecessary stress.

Work on a home improvement project together. Painting your teen’s room, planting a vegetable garden, adding plants to a room or redecorating the bathroom are some examples of projects you can work on together. You can let your teen lead the project, and ask him to choose the paint colors or room decor, or the types of vegetables or herbs he wants to include in his garden. Your teen can also choose to assign responsibilities to other family members, but remind him that he must be fair when doling out roles. If the project becomes a source of stress for your teen, provide him with the help that he needs. Once the project is complete, acknowledge his contributions and point out that without proper teamwork and cooperation this group effort would not have been possible. Working together on a project like this helps to teach your teen about the importance of cooperation and about the need for collaboration in all aspects of life.

Ask your teen to share his knowledge by teaching you how to play a video game or use a new social media platform. Teens often know all about the newest technologies and games. If you are looking to gain a new digital skill or simply learn more about your teen’s favorite video game, your teen may be a good teacher. If he shows you how to play the video game, play a few rounds with him and notice how he acts in competition. For example, he is certainly more skilled at the game, but being a good sport involves not always being focused on winning at all costs. If you notice him beating you and gloating rather than giving you a chance to play and learn more about the

game, talk to him about the importance of good sportsmanship. You can also ask him to teach you how to use Twitter or Instagram, and if you’ve mastered those social media sites already, you can suggest that he teach you how to use new software with which he’s familiar. If either of you becomes flustered during this experience, take a moment to step away and suggest that you continue the lesson some other time. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis says that asking your teen to teach something is a good way to gauge his communication skills, patience and teamwork abilities. It’s also a great way to bond with your teen over his interests, and build trust and confidence.

Teach your teen about the importance of healthy competition. During high school, many teens are in the process of applying for colleges, and they are trying to stand out from the crowd. Whether it’s getting the best grades, becoming the best athlete or being a part of the popular crowd, teens are constantly finding themselves in competition with one another, which can lead to a great deal of stress and apprehension. Help your teen find ways he can cope with stress, like exercise or deep breathing. Explain to him that it’s not possible to be the best at everything, and that simply making an effort can go further than winning. Teens are often so concerned with meeting the goals that their parents place on them that they lose sight of the personal goals that are important to them, so try to keep your expectations realistic.