Experts believe that making friends is vital to every child's development. Quoting Dr. Paul Schwartz of the Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, the role friendships play throughout life is important, multifaceted and profound.
Among children, it provides a developmental structure that can benefit a youngster's psychological health, such as self-awareness, self-esteem, and emotional maturity, and psychological competence, such as empathy towards other people's feelings and better involvement and attitude towards socially meaningful events, such as schooling or sports.
Research has shown that kids who build positive peer relationships at school tend to do well academically, socially and emotionally. Also, kids with positive peer relationships tend to resist better influences that can negatively impact their lives, such as drugs, gangs, and substance abuse.
As teens often rely on their peers rather than their family for encouragement and support during significant events, such as taking a major exam or handling a huge project, having good friends have consistently shown to positively benefit children and teenagers in all aspects of their development.
In a nutshell, if your kids are not making friends you should be worried. Likewise, you should be worried if your teen is often left out in social events, does not go out with friends and never gets invited to parties because other teens "don't like me."
Additionally, poor social skills could be a symptom of a much larger problem. For example, your teen could be suffering from depression or anxiety disorder.
What you can do to help your teens win friends
Parents need to play an active role in helping develop their children's social skills. The most important by far is building a caring, supportive and close knit relationship within your family, and in so doing help set the stage for all future relationships embarked by your children, including friendships.
As children learn how to interact with others, how to entertain with stories and jokes, how to care and support others from their parents, one of the very "first lessons" you should teach your children is how to interact with people and how to act in public according to existing social norms. Saying sorry, praising a good deed, cooperation, and team work - all these should be taught by parents. Teach your children good manners, train them to answer courteously when asked, and avoid unwanted or socially improper behavior, i.e. farting, burping or screaming. These are among the many lessons you can teach your child.
Here are a couple more ideas:
Provide your child with opportunities to spend time with other children
Some parents can get very protective of their children. They do not want their kids to mingle with other children unless they have to, and as a result, their kids have poor outside experience, especially in dealing with people not within the family circle. The effect, these kids do not empathize well with others and they do not easily win friends.
A perfect case example is a relative of mine who is a mom so overprotective of her daughter. She rarely allows her daughter out of sight, picks her up from school punctually, and would not allow her to play outdoors with other children. As a result of this stagnant and monotonous experience, her daughter suffered from slow growth and development, with a mental maturity way below her age.
Provide your kids with enough time and opportunities to make friends, whom they can spend time together to learn and play, can have beneficial aspects towards their development. So help your child bond with friends, invite them over for snacks and videogames. Nurture especially those kids with a positive outlook in life and this relationship will pay back a hundred fold later on.
Help your teen into outdoor activities and sports
If you notice, kids who are into sports usually have abundance in friends. So are kids active in extra curricular activities, such as theater and drama, cheerleading, etc. That is because social actives like sports tend to be a significant aspect for school age children. Public persona and how their peers view them are important to the development of pride and self-esteem.
Teach your kids how to play sports. Sign him or her to a youth organization or a summer league that offers sports or activities your teen enjoys. Arrange weekly planned exercise, such as jogging, gym or swimming. Encourage your kids to learn recreation skills, like piano, guitar or violin. These are among the things you can do to push your teen into taking part in meaningful social events.
How can you tell if your teen is depressed?
According to Mental Health America, depression is one of the most common mental illnesses that affect more than 19 million Americans every year. Recent surveys have indicated that as many as one in five teens suffers from depression. These are the most common symptoms may indicate depression:
- Withdrawal from friends and families, deteriorating social skills
- Persistent sadness and melancholy
- Growing lack of enthusiasm, motivation, and concern
- Tapering academic performance
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal behavior
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
Teen depression is difficult to diagnose because it is perfectly normal for teens to feel occasionally sad, gloomy or feel "down in the dumps". However, this behavior becomes abnormal when it persists over long periods and it begins to interfere with the teen's ability to fulfill his or her expected duties and responsibilities. In this case, parents must take action immediately. It is extremely important that depressed teens receive prompt, professional treatment.