In a recent blog (read Part 1), I discussed how parents might help their teenagers develop good social skills, including how to identify potential friends.
So far, so good. But what next? Well, they need to find an opportunity to have a short conversation with the other person. Perhaps on the way in and out of a class, or during a break. But knowing what to say to start a conversation can be scary: “What if I get ignored? What if they laugh at me? What if I can’t think of what to say next?”
You can reassure your teenager that these are normal concerns, but as with most skills, practice is the only way to learn and improve.
DON’T SCRIPT IT
It’s best to avoid trying to rehearse a script. The key is to find something to talk about that both people are interested in. Sometimes your teenager may have to take a chance on a topic that might work. Some good examples are things that have happened recently, such as the previous day or evening. This might be a current sporting event, viral video, a popular TV programme, or something that happened at school or locally. This means that your teenager needs to show interest in things that are going on around them. You can encourage this by getting them to talk to you about these kinds of things. This helps them to find the right words to use when they try to start a conversation with someone else.
ASK A QUESTION
You could suggest asking the other person a question, such as: “Did you watch that episode of … last night?” or “How do you think the cricket/soccer/basketball will turn out today?” This has the advantage of specifying a topic of interest, but runs the risk of getting a closed answer, such as “No” or “No idea”. This requires your teenager to have a plan for a follow-up response that introduces a different topic otherwise the conversation is likely to stop. This could be another question or a comment or observation. You may want to role-play this with your teenager.
MAKE A COMMENT
Making a comment or an observation is another way to start a conversation. For example, “I thought that episode of … last night was really scary” or “I reckon we’re going to win the cricket/soccer/basketball today”. This has the advantage of your teenager revealing something about themselves, but runs the risk that the other person will disagree or show no interest. In both these situations, it is important to have a follow-up response ready. Again, trying out different responses with your teenager may be helpful.
IF AT FIRST THEY DON’T SUCCEED…
If these opening comments work, a conversation should follow if the other person is at all interested in developing some kind of relationship. If the other person doesn’t respond in the expected way, it’s usually a sign that they’re not interested and that suggests your teenager might be better off trying again with someone else. (Although the other person could also be shy, so encourage your teenager to observe carefully things like tone and body language.)
If things are still proving difficult at school, you can also encourage your teenager to try make friends in a different environment, such as through joining a club or taking up an activity where they might be more likely to find somebody with a mutual interest.
Making and keeping friends is all about persistence. So if things don’t work out the first time, encourage your teenager to go back through the steps we’ve discussed and try again. With a bit of luck, it won’t be long before they’ve been able to form some new friendships and develop skills that will stand them in good stead in later life.