The importance of social skills for teenagers has been thrust into the spotlight over the last few years, and the situation has only become more critical.
But even before the pandemic began, America's teenagers have been in a state of social crisis. In 2019, over a third reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they had skipped regular activities. This was a staggering 44% increase since 2009.
Social skills are clearly not just about face-to-face interactions anymore. The sharp rise in teen sadness coincides with a similar rise in teen social media usage from around 70% in 2009 to over 95% today.
The online world is a significant part of a teenager's life. In fact, research has shown 55% of teenagers spend time with their closest friend online. However, the rise in isolation, mental health issues, and teen loneliness indicates a pressing need for structured environments where they can learn and practice these essential life skills.
In this article, we delve into the role of social skills groups for teenagers and their benefits. We also explore how these groups can be particularly beneficial for teenagers with special needs. By the end of this article, you'll understand why social skills groups are a vital tool in reducing high school anxiety, while promoting long term positive mental health, and overall well-being of teenagers.
Are Social Skills Groups Effective For Teenagers?
Social skills groups aren't just effective for younger children, they are also becoming more popular for teens growing up in today's compex world.
While social skills groups have long been proven to be effective for younger children, especially in terms of early intervention, they are by no means exclusively helpful to younger age groups.
"Many children feel uncomfortable in social situations. Social skills groups help children to understand social communication so that they can feel more calm, connected and better able to build healthy relationships."
- Michael Kornberg, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Healthy Young Minds
Adolescence is a time of significant social change and growth, with teens developing a sense of identity, beginning to navigate more complex social situations, and often dealing with heightened social pressure and emotions.
Social skills groups can be incredibly beneficial during this period, offering targeted support and a safe space for practice and growth.
Strong social skills help teens form and maintain friendships as they navigate the complexities of adolescence, and social skills groups provide teenagers with the support they need to explore their interests, learn more about themselves, and gain a deeper understanding of others while developing a sense of social belonging.
Recent research exploring many previous studies on youth mental health and social development, found that teens with close friends at age 15 feel better about themselves and are less anxious or depressed by age 25. While fitting into big groups can be tough, those who do benefit from better self-esteem and leadership skills, and they tend to be less aggressive.
In simple terms:
- Close friendships during teen years lead to better long term mental health.
- Teens with strong bonds feel more equipped to handle stress.
The long-term benefits of developing strong social skills during the teenage years cannot be downplayed, and social skills groups are effective for helping teens learn, practice, and improve important interpersonal skills that are the building blocks for all of their future successful social interactions, such as:
- Making eye contact
- Carrying a conversation
- Handling an argument
- Showing compassion,
- Being accountable
- Managing emotions
- Developing empathy
What Are The Benefits Of Social Skills Groups For Teenagers?
Social skills groups provide a structured environment where teenagers can learn and practice essential social skills.
"Social groups and group therapy are effective tools to help kids develop a sense of belonging, normalization, and increased self-awareness. By engaging with others while being supported by a trained therapist, kids can develop conversational and problem-solving skills, and friendship building."
- Julie Norman, M.S. CCC-SLP, Lead Therapist
These groups can be particularly beneficial for teenagers who feel uncomfortable in social situations.
1. Improved Communication Skills
Social skills groups help teenagers improve their communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal. They learn to express their thoughts and feelings effectively and listen to others with empathy. Improved communication skills can enhance their interpersonal relationships and contribute to their overall social development.
2. Enhanced Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict is a part of life, and knowing how to handle it is a vital social skill. In these groups, teenagers learn to handle disagreements in a respectful and constructive manner. This can help prevent conflicts from escalating and damaging relationships.
3. Development of Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It's a key component of emotional intelligence and a vital social skill. In social skills groups, teenagers learn to put themselves in others' shoes and respond with compassion. This can help them build deeper and more meaningful relationships.
4. Increased Accountability
Accountability is about taking responsibility for one's actions. It's a sign of maturity and a crucial social skill. In these groups, teenagers learn to own up to their mistakes and make amends. This can help them build trust and respect in their relationships.
5. Better Online Communication Skills
In today's digital age, online communication skills are as important as face-to-face communication skills. These include understanding the potential dangers of social media, and maintaining privacy and safety online. In social skills groups, teenagers learn to navigate the digital world in a responsible and respectful manner.
6. Improved Friendship Building Skills
Building and maintaining friendships is a complex social skill that involves a combination of other skills like communication, empathy, and conflict resolution. In these groups, teenagers learn to form meaningful connections with their peers and maintain these relationships over time. This can contribute to their psychosocial adjustment and well-being.
7. Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills
Problem-solving skills are crucial for navigating the challenges of life. They involve identifying a problem, generating possible solutions, and implementing the best solution. In social skills groups, teenagers learn to apply these skills in social contexts, helping them deal with interpersonal issues effectively.
How Can Social Skills Groups Help Teenagers With Special Needs?
Social skills groups can be particularly beneficial for teenagers with special needs, such as those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These teenagers often face unique social challenges and may struggle with social communication and interaction. Social skills groups provide a supportive environment where they can learn and practice essential social skills at their own pace.
"Unlike in individual therapy, a child participating in group therapy can be introduced to and continue to build social skills. These skills are essential for kids, especially those without siblings, to ensure appropriate skills when entering school (online or in person) and learning things such as turn taking, perspective taking, conflict resolution, and so much more."
- Laura "Laurie" Squier, BCBA