How to Broaden the Social Circle: High School

One major aspect of schooling that helps to promote a teen’s development is the socialization that school provides. In no other realm would adolescents have hours of interaction with diverse groups of peers and adults on a daily basis. Learning alongside peers also benefits the development of teens’ social skills—not only do teens learn appropriate interactions at school, but they also learn other vital skills such as compromise, collaboration, perspective-taking, empathy, etc. So, recognizing that social skills are critical to education, how can we encourage building and maintaining strong social circles at the high school level?

Encourage acceptance. This may sound simple, but building acceptance and understanding among peers, especially teenagers, can be a tricky undertaking. Have open discussions about the importance of diversity, individuality, and differences among friends. The more accepting high schoolers are, the more open they will be to befriending someone new. Not only are these conversations important for families to have with their teens, but rather they also help to teach young adults the value of acceptance and compromise—two vital qualities for college and career readiness.   

Remind your high schooler that popularity should not come at the price of making genuine friends. Again, easier said than done. However, hard lessons about friendship often revolve around the supposed need to be “in the right crowd.” The adolescent years are difficult in terms of willingness to stray from the group. However, teenagers can only benefit from making connections with others. The idea of “the more, the merrier” certainly applies here. Being friends with others does nothing to take away from core friendships. Remind your teen that it is normal to have different or varying social circles. He or she should feel comfortable having family friends, neighborhood friends, sports friends, and more. Furthermore, remind your teen that to have a good friend, one must be a good friend.

Branch out when selecting or joining new extracurricular activities. Encouraging your teenager to try new things will not only broaden his or her horizon, rather it can also broaden his or her number of friendship groups. Your adolescent may want to try developing a new skill or hobby. Perhaps he or she could participate in a new art class, dance class, swim club, or tennis camp. These opportunities allow your teen to interact with and get to know new peers—peers he or she may not get to meet otherwise.

Discuss your own memories of friendships with your teen. Talk about how some of your friendships have stood the test of time, while others may have dissipated. Explain that it is normal and somewhat likely that some friendships will be fleeting. Depending on circumstances, friends come and go; some are relationships of convenience, not true compatibility. While discussing your own experiences with friends, model what it looks like to be a truly genuine friend. Puberty, confidence, self-consciousness—all of these transitional moments can make it difficult for teens to foster strong, authentic friendships. The more your teen understands what it looks like to be a good friend, the easier he or she will be able to meet new peers and maintain strong friendships. Ask him what he looks for in a “good friend.” Explain how he can take these positive traits and apply them to himself to ensure that he is treating his peers the way that he would like to be treated. Talk about the importance of honesty and loyalty. Make sure that your teen knows how to keep someone’s trust, be a good listener, and offer support when his friend needs him.

Avoid putting too much emphasis on the term “best friend.” Often times, teens can become caught up in the terminology. It may be because of a competitive desire to be “the best friend,” or because of the “cliquish” atmosphere that occurs during the teenage years. But, either way, a friend is a friend. Remind your teen that, just like she has other friends, her own friends have other friend groups as well. This does not mean that she should feel threatened or left out.

How to Broaden the Social Circle: Elementary

One major aspect of schooling that helps to promote a child’s development is the socialization that school provides. In no other realm would children have hours of interaction with diverse groups of peers and adults on a daily basis. Learning alongside peers also benefits the development of children’s social skills—not only do children learn appropriate interactions at school, but they also learn other vital skills such as compromise, collaboration, perspective-taking, empathy, etc. So, recognizing that social skills are critical to education, how can we encourage building and maintaining strong social circles at the elementary level?

Encourage participation in various peer groups. Provide your child with the opportunity to mingle with different groups of peers for various activities. Explain to your child that it is okay, even helpful, to have different peer groups or friend circles. The idea of “the more, the merrier” certainly applies here. Being friends with others does nothing to take away from primary friendships. Ensure that your child knows that it is okay to have school friends, soccer friends, family friends, neighborhood friends, and more.

Branch out when signing up or joining new extracurricular activities. Encouraging your child to try new things will not only broaden their horizons, rather it can also broaden their friendships. Try a new art class, children’s cooking class, swim club, or summer camp. These opportunities allow your child to interact with and get to know new peers—peers he or she may not get to meet otherwise.

Discuss what friendship means. The more your child understands about being a good friend, the easier he or she will be able to meet new peers and maintain strong friendships. Ask him what he likes in a “good friend.” Explain how he can take these positive traits and apply them to himself to ensure that he is treating his peers the way that he would like to be treated. Talk about the importance of honesty and support—a good friend is someone who keeps his word and helps his friends when they need a hand.

Help to open your child’s eyes to see potential friends. A good way to help build children’s peer groups is to help them see their peers as potential or possible friends in the making. Have conversations like, “What do you and Kate have in common?” “Do you ever sit together in the cafeteria, or play together at recess?” If your child expresses interest, try to foster a friendship by arranging a playdate. Talk with other parents about opportunities to get kids together in small groups. Offer to take a group to a museum, movie, or sporting event.

Avoid putting too much emphasis on the term “best friend.” Often times, children can become caught up in the terminology. It may be because of a competitive desire to be “the best friend,” but either way, a friend is a friend. Remind your child that, just like she has other friends, her own friends have other friend groups as well. This does not mean that she should feel threatened or left out.

Cultivating Friendships During the Summer Break

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Much like how we adults can relate to those cherished days at the start of summer, your child is undoubtedly thrilled about the beginning of summer vacation. What’s not to love about the freedom, festivities, and full-on summer fun that the end of the school year brings? With the school-day routines shifting to a more relaxed summer schedule, it is important to consider a few different challenges that may arise once school has ended.

One of the biggest challenges when transitioning from the school schedule to the summer schedule is the fact that children may not have anticipated the hiatus from their friends. Sure, they know that summer means no more school. However, what they may have neglected to consider is the fact that no school means no time with school friends.

One of the greatest things about school, for parents and children alike, is the social factor. While children are busy learning in class, they are also subconsciously developing friendships, interests, and social skills. Socializing with peers on a regular basis, all day long, is sometimes taken for granted—children don’t realize how much time they spend around peers while in school. Your child might write in a friend’s yearbook to, “Have a great summer” all the while not realizing that they may not see these friends for a solid amount of time. That said, it is important to consider how your child can keep in touch with friends when school lets out.

Of course, camps, days at the pool, and parties over the summer allow children time to see their friends, but what about those friends that may not be included in the parent rolodex of playdates? If your child has friends from school that he or she is worried about not seeing over the summer, there are ways to help them keep in touch.

Send mail—actual mail. In the time of snapchat, twitter, and texting, it is likely that children have not been mailing letters on a regular basis. All the more reason to break out the stationery! Letter-writing is not only a great way to maintain communication, but it acts as an incognito writing practice, as well! If away on vacation or at sleepaway camp, help your child write and mail postcards to friends.

Host a sleepover or backyard campout. Sleepovers are some of the best parts of summer. Help your child continue to preserve friendships made at school by helping to cultivate the friendship outside of school. Set up a tent in the backyard or roll out some sleeping bags on the patio.

Present your child with opportunities for their friends to get together. The younger children are, the more difficult it is for them to arrange time to hang out with friends on their own. That said, parents are key when arranging social gatherings over the summer. Do a little research about family-friendly summer activities in your area. Then invite your child’s friends and their families. Perhaps it’s a concert in the park, a trip to the zoo, or even just an afternoon movie on a rainy day—no matter the activity, your child will be thrilled to get to see their school friends outside of school.

Encourage your child to make new friends, in addition to the current friends. As adults, we know that with each new experience comes an opportunity to meet new people. This is true for children, too. As difficult as it may be, especially for shy kiddos, provide your child with opportunities to interact with new children in their age group. Perhaps this involves taking a class, joining a summer sports team, or attending a new day-camp. The more opportunities your child has to explore and meet new peers, the better. And remember, making new friends does not take anything away from friendships that already exist. Teach your child the common adage, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.”