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Archive for May, 2011

How to Encourage Your Teen’s Social Life

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Your teenager’s high school years should not be all about studying and making good grades. Granted, this is important if your student is interested in college and you know he will need some sort of scholarship in order for you to afford it.

Extracurricular activities in high school are also very important for your teen. From the time he is 13 or so, your son or daughter is learning how to get along and socialize with other kids his age. He may learn these skills earlier and if he does, more power to him. My point is this: if your freshman teen is not very social, now is the time for him to learn.

There is nothing worse than being a great student, but having no friends at all. No one to talk to or laugh with. Loneliness is a terrible thing to experience during your high school years; I ought to know since I went through it myself.

Don’t let this happen to your teen. There are many things you can do to encourage appropriate social behavior in your teenager. Here are some ways you can get your teen involved socially with his school and the community at large:

*** Have him do volunteer work

Our local Catholic high school requires that students perform at least 25 hours of volunteer community service work each year. They need 100 total hours of volunteer work to graduate. Most students don’t care to do volunteer work unless it is very interesting. Last year, our son worked at the golf course and for the church, but they mostly had to find him something to do. Half the time he was standing around with nothing to do. When there was work, it was boring. This year, he will volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Working for this organization will give him the opportunity to learn something useful. If he finds it interesting enough, he may even want to extend his volunteer hours! This is the best result you can hope for.

Volunteer work gets your teen out into the community and helps him practice dealing with other adults besides his parents, teachers and coaches. With volunteer work, he will learn how to deal with his boss and how to get along with and work beside his co-workers(if there are any). He won’t be paid, but at least he will get a taste of what it is like to work for other people or organizations.

*** Encourage him to go out for at least one sport

Make sure that he chooses the sport and knows what is required to succeed. He doesn’t have to be great at it but he does have to like the sport, even if he only watches it on TV. Most high school sports programs don’t “cut” participants, but let them stay on the team as long as they are willing to come to all practices and try hard. That’s how it works at our high school.

For example, our son knew little or nothing about basketball, but tried out for the freshman team last year. He went to all practices and showed a willingness to work. He didn’t get to play many minutes, but he didn’t get discouraged. He intends to go out for JV basketball this year. According to the basketball coach(who also coaches weight training), our son is in much better shape and will do much better at basketball this year. This is very encouraging for any parent to hear.

Also, your teen can play as many sports during the year as he wishes, just so the time spent in practices and at games does not interfere with or detract from his school work. Emphasize to your sports-minded teen that studies come first and that he can play sports only if he keeps his grades up. Our private high school requires a “B” average in all courses in order to participate in or continue to play a sport.

Be sure you can go to at least some of his games, even the “away” games. Your teen will never tell you this, but it is important to him that he sees you at his games. It’s especially important if he does well. He wants you to see him make a big play or help his team win.

One thing: don’t get over involved. Never yell at the referees or at your son or daughter. Just be there to watch the game. You can certainly cheer if your teen makes a good play or his team wins, but keep it positive at all times. Don’t try to live through your teen or put pressure on him to do well.

*** See if he might be interested in student government

Most secondary schools still have student government for each class. Your teen can run for president, vice president, secretary or treasurer. Tell him that holding such an office(or even running for it and losing) shows leadership qualities to future employers or universities. Also, he will interact with other like-minded teens from his own class. So if your high schooler is interested in government, politics or civics, get him involved with student government. If you’re not sure your school has this program, just call the school office to find out.

*** Encourage your teen to go to dances, home games, movie nights, etc that are sponsored by your school

Our high school has a homecoming dance each year. Our son was nominated for homecoming “lord” for his class and won! He told me that it was an honor for him to be nominated and chosen at the homecoming game. I agree with him. He was put forward by other kids in his own class; they even posted banners around the school telling other students to vote for him. It feels great as parents to know that your teen is popular with the other kids.

Your teen can also attend football, baseball or basketball games, even if he is not on the team. This shows school “spirit”. Our teen son is simply interested in watching the game itself and seeing other kids he knows play. But even if your teen isn’t really interested in the game, he can socialize with the other kids that he sees in the stands. If your high schooler wants you to go with him to a game, do so if you can. At the same time, encourage him to meet other kids at the games, so he is not always seen just around you.

Movie nights are fun, even if your teen doesn’t particularly want to watch the movie. At our high school, the kids bring a pillow or sleeping bag and sit on the floor. This is nice because they can gather around each other in a circle and talk throughout the film.

*** As a parent, you can volunteer a few hours at your teenager’s high school

Our local parochial high school requires that each parent do at least five hours volunteer work per school year(20 hours in total) or pay $200. Most parents take the easy way out and pay the $200. Unless you are extremely busy, try to do something for your high school. An even better thing to do is to volunteer a few hours a week in the community, so you will set a good example for your teen. I volunteer four hours or so a week for our area hospital.

*** Have your teen join any school clubs he likes

Most schools have a chess club, Spanish club, French club, service club, math club, music club, band, etc. Be sure you and your teen explore any clubs or organizations the school has available and see what they actually do and when they meet. Usually, teachers or counselors sponsor these clubs and provide oversight. Sometimes they get to go on field trips or even journey to other countries that speak the language they are studying. This is an easy and painless way for your teen to socialize with others and do things he enjoys.

*** If you observe that your teen seems to enjoy the company of another student, encourage him to invite his friend over to to your home. In our area, the easiest thing to do is have them swim in the pool. Or if they have a common interest(like golf), you can help them meet at the golf course. Be sure to meet the other kid’s parents and be certain that your teen is also invited over to his new friend’s house. It’s a two way street; both sets of parents have to be willing to participate.

Also, encourage your teen to have as many friends as possible. Don’t limit him to just one or two, especially if you are friends with the parents. Think of it this way, when your teen makes a new friend, you might make two new friends when you meet the new friend’s parents.

Conclusions:

As you can see, there are many things your teen can do that will give him the opportunity to talk to other kids his age without them having to be in class together. Socializing in school helps prepare your high schooler for a normal social life as an adult. It doesn’t matter what he participates in as long as he does something. If you think you have to push your teen a little, make sure you suggest something that you think he will be interested in.

Be willing to drive your teen anywhere he needs to go, as long as it has something to do with school or extracurricular activities. You have to not only be willing but also able to drive. Don’t be too busy for your teen, you’ll pay for it later! It’s easy to opt out just by saying “I don’t have the time to drive you”. Anyone who has ever said that to me really does have the time, they just don’t want to do it! Don’t cop out on your teen; make the time!

By the time your teen gets to be 16 and can drive by himself, you won’t have to chauffeur him around nearly as much. But if you are not willing or able to drive him around from the ages of 13 to 16, it will discourage him from socializing on his own later. And that should be the last thing you want to have happen.