Tag Archive for social support

Be Your Child’s Social Coach

Our teens have all kinds of coaches: sporting coaches, academic coaches (tutors), reading coaches, driving coaches (we call them instructors), and music coaches (private teachers) to name a few. The most important coach, however, is their social coach. Do you know the best person to fill the role of your teen’s social coach? You. Their parent. Parents are the most readily available person to offer social coaching. Parents know their adolescent best. Parents have years of experience in managing social situations. But, as always, there is a caveat.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology explored how parents (mothers in particular) guide (AKA, coach) their children during the transition into middle school and adolescence.  As part of the study, they measured the transitioning children’s level of arousal in response to social stressors like being bullied or teased, experienced rude peers, being harassed by peers, or having problems with a friend. The amount of social stress aroused in response to the social stress determined what type of parental “coaching” was most helpful. 

Specifically, teens who experienced minimal arousal in response to social stress benefitted most from specific advice on how to manage the situation and the challenging peer. These teens benefitted from active, engaged coping ideas specific to the situation.

On the other hand, those who experienced a high arousal in response to the social stresses inherent in peer interactions responded best to a more “hands-off” coaching style. In this style, the parent is less actively engaged and encourages more autonomy and self-reliant problem-solving. They do not offer specific advice. Instead, they ask their teen what they think about the situation. In fact, specific advice seemed to increase the teens level of stress. So, the parental coach helped their teen think about the situation and what they thought offered the best way to work through the stressor without giving direct advice.

Taken together, this study offers great advice about effectively coaching our children and teens in social situation. It starts with paying attention to how much the social situation impacts your child. Specifically, here are two pieces of advice for coaching your teen in response to social stresses.

  1. If they are just a little stressed by the situation, listen and offer specific advice. Actively participate in problem-solving. Reframe the situation. Help broaden their perspective to understand the other person’s perspective. Offer specific advice on ways to communicate and maintain boundaries that encourage respect and appropriate interactions.
  2. But if they are highly stressed by the situation, listen. Then ask about their feelings and thoughts in relation to the stressor. Validate their concern. Strive to understand their perspective. Listening and validating will help your teen calm their emotions. Ask them what they think might be the best way to respond to such situations and trust their abilities in responding.

Coaching our children through the social stresses inherent in moving toward middle school is a challenging task. However, these coaching tips can help. As you remain present and available for your children—offering a listening ear, seeking their input, and offering counsel—your teen will grow and mature into an adult who knows how to manage any social stress that arises.   

Preventing Suicide In Our Teens

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. An average of 3,069 adolescents in grade 9-12 attempt suicide each year.  In 2017, 6,252 people between 15 and 24 years old died by suicide (Youth Suicide Statistics from The Parent Resource Program). Those are staggering numbers. We need to do something to decrease these numbers. And, our families are a great place to begin.

A study published in the fall of 2019 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry looked at the “peer-adult networks” in 38 high schools (including 10,291 students) in New York State and North Dakota. Their findings suggest:

  • Students who attempted suicide were those least connected to their peers.
  • Students who attempted suicide were the least connected to trusted adults and, in fact, most likely to be isolated from adults.
  • And, having 10% fewer students isolated from adults in a school setting resulted in a 20% reduction in the average rate of suicide attempts in that school.

Overall, schools in which students had more friendships and were part of an interconnected social network that included trusted adults, experienced fewer suicide attempts!

Of course, this study was completed in school settings. However, the principles can apply even in the community and our homes. This study informs us that our teens need a strong social network that includes peers and other trusted adults. You can help build this strong, protective social network around your teen by involving them in groups such as:

  • Scouting groups like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Frontier Girls, Spiral scouts. For more information, visit Top 5 Scouting Organizations for Kids.
  • Local churches offer youth groups, Sunday School programs, volunteer groups, and small group studies. Involve your whole family in the church and each family member may find a group in which to become actively involved and supported.
  • Sporting involvement also offers a wonderful opportunity for your teen to become involved in a protective social network.  They can become involved in community sports’ teams, traveling sports’ teams, school sports’ teams, or recreational club teams.
  • Community bands and theater groups also present an opportunity to involve your teen in a positive, supportive social network with peers and trusted adults.

Possibilities for involvement in a positive social network for your teen can arise from any area or interest: arts, chess, hiking…anything that might be a strength or interest for your teen. The MeetUp App may also provide ideas and opportunities. Each opportunity will provide your teen the chance to develop a social network of peers and trusted adults…and so decrease the chances of suicidal attempts.