Teach Your Teen to Say Hello

Young people need to learn to talk as well as they can text!

Most people love social networking. The technology of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter is stupendous, keeping us in contact on our computers and our cell phones. Yet, there can be real problems with these technologies—especially for young people. Why? Because it can lure them into a culture of isolation.

Don’t let this happen to your son or daughter.

In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that young teens have great difficulty talking one-on-one with each other, yet will send more than 300 text messages back and forth every day. Parents should be alarmed!

Texting has become an integral part of life. Just go into a restaurant and notice how many people are texting—and not talking. You may be shocked.

Why is it that so many of our youth do not know how to say hello, or relate one-on-one with others? The answer is simple: They are not being taught these important skills. This kind of education must begin early in life, and parents must be the educators.

Here is how to ensure your teen will say hello!

Go Against the Flow

Children, tweens (adolescents) and teens need to have a strong relationship with their parents, founded on emotional warmth, touching and verbal communication. That’s far more involved than shoving a cell phone into their hands and saying, “I’ll text you later.”

In March, Good Housekeeping reported that recent medical studies show “the more hours teenagers spend using a computer or watching tv, the weaker their emotional bonds with their parents.” Quoting a 2010 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the article reported that most adolescents average 25 to 30 hours per week watching tv and using computers. Many parents insist they limit screen time, but even their children disagree.

We no longer live in the age when restricting media use means simply turning off the tv in the den. Most tweens and teens have smartphones, laptops, tablets, and iPods with them 24/7. It is growing more difficult to even measure the screen time tweens and teens are getting. Adding up the total time young people spend on their electronic devices, experts believe the numbers are staggering. The average American ages 8 to 18 spends over seven hours a day looking at some kind of screen, a Kaiser Family Foundation study reports. Five years ago, when that same study was conducted, its coauthor Donald Roberts believed children’s screen time couldn’t rise any higher. “But it just keeps going up and up,” he now says.

Don’t let television and gadgets bring up your children.

Your children need your love. They need you to be deeply involved in their lives. This is the first and most important step in the social education process: Children learn how to relate to others from parents who spend a lot of time with them.

If you provide all the latest computer gadgets for your child, you will limit valuable companionship time with your child.

Youths Need Activities

Parents should take the responsibility to provide an affordable, exciting and interesting social life for their children. Youth need to be actively involved with other young people and adults. During a child’s infant years, his or her social life is very simple: playtime with Dad and Mom. When parents play frequently with their children—having fun, laughing, talking and teaching—children develop a positive outlook, social confidence and competence. Children who experience consistent parental involvement are warm and friendly to other children and adults, making the establishment of future relationships easy.

As a child grows through the adolescent years, parents must widen his social experience. This means getting your child involved with other children. What are some of the best social activities to provide your child? Team sporting activities top the list. It is becoming uncommon for many children to be out of doors playing, let alone doing team sports. Too many children are indoors playing computer games, texting their friends or watching television. This is one of the major reasons why so many of our young people are unhealthy and overweight—and why their social lives are equally unhealthy.

Of course, if you want your children to be active, you need to be active yourself.

Encourage your child to participate in team sports. This will open up many practical opportunities for developing social skills. Team sports teach, emphasize and reinforce vital social skills such as cooperation, following directions, leadership, sharing and teamwork, skills that greatly enhance a child’s success in life. When learned early, they are even more valuable.

Other group activities will also help your child socially: marching band, orchestra, chess club, scouting—the possibilities are just about endless.

Choose Friends Wisely

Getting your child involved in social activities does not mean that you can step out of the picture. In fact, when your child gets involved with other children, you will need to be even more involved. This becomes most important in the teen years. When your teen interacts with other teens, challenges and difficulties are sure to arise.

There is no one better for your child to talk things over with than you. All youth, especially teenagers, need to know that their parents have a special interest in them. Give your son or daughter ample time to talk with you about what is going on in his or her life. Give constructive guidance on how to get along with others. Be sure to discuss with your child the personal weaknesses he must overcome in himself. Above all, show him his strengths and how he can build on them. When you show this kind of real interest in your teen, you may be surprised how readily he will turn to you when he needs help.

When teens are actively involved with other teens, parents must provide guidance on how to choose friends wisely. This is so much better when your child knows them in person: Making new friends on the Internet is really a dangerous activity—especially for children, tweens and teenagers. Who has not been thoroughly disgusted by news reports of young people being kidnapped, abused and murdered by a sexual predator posing as another child on the Internet? Parents must monitor carefully all online chatting. Insist that your teenager only make friends with those young people you both know.

Fully involved parents not only know their children, they know their children’s friends. In fact, involved parents help their children choose their friends.

Besides attending your child’s activities, the best way to get to know your child’s friends is to have them into your home for an activity. As you get to know your child’s friends, be sure to teach your child to associate only with teens who have high goals and good character. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33; English Standard Version). Another teen’s bad character could do significant harm to your teen.

Sponsor Coed Activities

One enjoyable in-home activity you could sponsor is a board-game night. If you plan a game night for your tween or teen, provide a mixture of boys and girls. This will ensure that your child learns how to communicate with, relate to and respect members of the opposite sex.

When choosing a game, look for one that will get all the players actively involved. Find a game that challenges the participants to think, to exchange ideas—in other words, to talk. Make sure all cell phones, smartphones, iPods and iPads are turned off and out of sight.

Be sure to give your full attention to any activities involving mixed company. Allowing a group of teenagers to hold activities on their own can lead to real trouble. Drinking, abusing drugs and illicit sex can do far worse than mar an evening—they can ruin an entire life.

During these group activities, take the time to notice how your child relates to his or her peers. Then be sure to talk about the activity when it has ended. If your child was shy, tell her so. If he was domineering, discuss that as well. If your child did not work to get along with everyone present, show how that impacted the other teens. Teach him how to be loving and giving to others. Make it your goal to have your children be respected and liked by their peers—for all the right reasons.

Practice Inside Family

It is important that parents teach their tweens and teens how to greet and converse with adults. Young people must be taught how to be warm and friendly with adults. Many teens today will hardly look at an adult, let alone talk with one.

Your children can practice conversation skills with adults they feel most comfortable with. Sadly, because there is such a criminal element in our society, the safest way to do this is to begin the education process with grandparents, aunts and uncles—adults you know well.

Besides talking about their day with you, your children should be able to discuss the events of their day with other adults. When asked, “How was your day?” your child should be able to respond with more than a one-word sentence. He should be able to engage in small talk, telling what happened to him at school or at a sporting event. He should feel at ease telling another adult what he is excited about. You should encourage your child to talk with other adults often.

Such conversation skills are more valuable than most people realize. They will greatly add to your children’s success in their future careers. They will develop their character and help them grow to become contributing members of society. The stability of any culture hinges on the ability of its people to relate to one another in mature, responsible ways.

The best environment for teaching social skills to children is inside the family. Children cannot learn these vital skills on their own. God charges all parents to nurture their children to become successful members of society (Proverbs 22:6). To become successful, your child has to know how to say hello.