How Parents and Caring Adults Can Support Social Development
Although adolescence is a time when young people try to manage their lives on their own, they still depend on their families and caring adults for primary support, affection, and decision-making, as well as for help establishing their identities and learning about skills and values. Here are some ways parents and other adults can support youth thriving in social development.
- Set examples of healthy relationships. Relationships can be strong when you’re aware of your own feelings as well as aware of other’s emotions. In healthy relationships, both partners should treat each other with respect, give each other space, talk through problems, and communicate honestly. Modeling positive friendships and relationships with co-workers and neighbors also is important.
- Monitor and get to know adolescents’ friends and dating partners. Find out whom they spend time with, what they are doing, and where they are going. Ask about how the adolescent picks their friends and what they enjoy about the people with whom they spend their time.
- Encourage participation in activities adolescents care about. Help adolescents make friends by getting them involved in activities that match their interests (e.g. art, music, computer science, sports).
- Exhibit empathetic behavior. Show empathy by acting on concern for other people, using statements that describe how people might feel, and talking about being compassionate toward diverse groups of people. Adults and adolescents also can work together on community service projects.
- Build connections by talking to adolescents about your interests and learn about theirs. Take the time to learn about your adolescent’s hobbies and interests and expose them to new activities to help you find mutual interests and have more meaningful interactions.
- Teach adolescents how to deal with peer pressure. Help adolescents understand which risks will enable them to test their skills and which risks may have harmful consequences, even if their peers encourage those behaviors.
Talking with Adolescents
Parents and other adults can help answer young people’s questions about their changing social worlds and relationships. Have open and honest conversations with adolescents to help them make healthy decisions about their social development.
- Acknowledge what adolescents have to say. Not every disagreement is a conflict. Be available to listen to any concerns adolescents disclose. Meaningful conversations may happen informally and spontaneously.
- Let adolescents know when it is important to share sensitive information with you. Make sure teens know they can come to you with information that affects their safety or the safety of their peers without fear of being judged or punished.
- Discuss boundaries and expectations in relationships with friends and romantic partners. Stress the importance of having personal space, setting limits, and respecting privacy in any relationship. Discuss what true friendships and romantic relationships are (respectful, supportive, encouraging, and caring) as well as what they are not (disrespectful, abusive, controlling, and violent). Acknowledge that friends and romantic partners can remain close and intimate even if they say “no” to each other.
- Set online boundaries. A large part of social development now occurs while adolescents are online. Whether social media acts as a risk or a tool for adolescent health largely depends on how adolescents use the media and how parents talk with teens about online safety. Talk to adolescents about behaving responsibly online, both in how they treat others and how they can keep themselves safe.
- Teach and model good communication skills. Having a conversation, especially on sensitive topics, can be challenging. Respectful communication is a learned skill. Showing adolescents how to listen and share their thoughts and feelings respectfully, even in the midst of conflict, can help them socially, romantically, and professionally.
Additional information on adolescent social development can be found in The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development, produced by the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Content last reviewed on February 6, 2019