Independent high schools aim to develop and prepare students for a successful future, including college, sports, the arts, entrepreneurship, and everything in between. As adults, we must acknowledge that while these things are important to our students, their social relationships are a top priority. This is a developmental fact for this age group. What can we do to be supportive of our students in this highly charged, sensitive, and powerful area of their lives? Not much—and a lot—all at the same time.
Below are some thoughts on approaching conversations with your teen about social relationships:
What does “not much, but a lot” mean? We are referring to the simple (but not always easy) job of listening. Listening includes the challenging skill of not speaking; listening without judgment in both verbal and non-verbal ways is imperative. In order for our teens to fully express their emotions, they need to know that they are sharing without being judged. As a listener, body language and facial expression can give away your thoughts and feelings. It means maintaining eye contact, so as to reassure them you’re focused on them. These days, one key element of active listening is the conscious decision to eliminate distractions such as your own electronic devices.
After listening carefully, you can ask questions. Asking questions is two-fold; clarifying questions help you to make sure you have a good understanding of the situation. Probing questions can also help your teen see new perspectives that they might not have considered. Developmentally, teenagers are in a very philosophical phase in which they can analyze situations well. Asking open-ended questions such as, “How would you feel if you experienced X?” or “Would you appreciate it if a friend said or did Y?” Offering questions for them to contemplate can help them discover the wisdom they need to work through their relationships.
While parent/teen relationships and conversations can be challenging and emotionally taxing, it is important for parents to keep in mind that setting boundaries is a way in which they can be helpful. This may mean asserting a curfew on weeknights and weekends, or it could mean turning off technology during certain hours. Staying connected to their peers 24 hours a day is an unreasonable task for any teen to manage on a daily basis; yet readily available with today’s technology. It might be the unpopular choice and create conflict initially, but in the long-run, establishing boundaries and some separation is one of the best things you can do for a teenager consumed with the ups and downs of social relationships.
Hormonal development leads teens to feel emotions more deeply than adults. Good times can feel ecstatic and difficult times can be devastating. Having a trusted adult who listens, asks thought-provoking questions, and lets them know someone cares is an incredible resource for a teenager.
Contributed by Jacque Little, Associate Director of Student Life