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Why social skills matter for our children


With the amount of communication conducted remotely rising, many young people are finding face-to-face communication increasingly challenging.  We hear from Alicia Drummond, our in-house Parenting and Mental Health Expert and Founder of Teen Tips and the Teen Tips Wellbeing Hub on how this is impacting our children and how we can help them develop this important skillset.

As parents in the world of work we all have an understanding of the huge importance of social skill in the workplace.  Business is about relationships, and at the heart of all good relationships lies good communication.  As more and more jobs become automated, it is our soft skills, aka social skills, creativity, initiative, critical thinking and cognitive flexibility, which keep us relevant.

These are the qualities our children need to develop if they are to thrive socially, emotionally, academically and in the job markets of the future.

And yet many children may be feeling less socially confident and more socially anxious which can lead to avoidance of social situations and missed opportunities.  When a law school announces, as one did last week, that they are teaching undergraduates social skills, the alarm bells should be ringing.  So, what can we do?

Firstly, I think we need to understand that social skills are complex and extend way beyond  initiating and maintaining a conversation, although this is a very good starting point. How confident do you feel that your child could walk into most social situations and hold their own in a conversation?  If you are not convinced they could, then this is where the work needs to begin.

You could start by explaining that there is a structure to communication which begins with  a greeting.  Then there is small talk which many people struggle with, but which is important because it lays the foundation for the more in-depth and meaningful conversations which might follow.  If your child finds small talk difficult, encourage them to come up with a list of twenty to thirty conversation starters which they could use in pretty much any social scenario.  Having a selection of questions to draw on will give them confidence, but practice is also important, so try to expose them to a wide variety of social situations.

Help them understand the value of open questions which invite a detailed response.  Demonstrate the art of active listening which allows us to gather information we can use to inform our responses. As Dale Carnegie said in his book, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

When we show an interest in others, we build rapport which is the starting point for connection.

Having good social skills also means learning to accept differences and see alternative perspectives, it means being patient, taking turns and participating equally.  We need to be able to pay someone a compliment, to disagree politely and resolve conflict effectively all of which takes time and practice.  One of the very best places to learn these skills is around your kitchen table.  Family meals are a golden opportunity to develop the social skills which will serve them well throughout life, so turn off the screens and take time out to connect, discuss and debate, and if you are short on ideas for conversation starters, in March we will be launching the Spark section of the Teen Tips Hub where you will find our weekly ethics questions.  Here’s one to get you going.

“If you had to eliminate a colour from the colour spectrum which one would you eliminate, and why?”

Check out the Inspiring Futures section within the Teen Tips Wellbeing Hub containing a library of podcasts designed to inform and inspire young people about the adult world of work.  Just fifteen minutes long, guests are asked to describe their industry, their job, the highs and the lows, how they got to where they are now, and what advice they would give to a young person hoping to follow in their footsteps.  To date when asked what someone would need to succeed in their profession, every single one has mentioned social skills.

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