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Maximize Your Daughter's Social Skills

Maintain Healthy Friendships
Socially adept girls are selective about which classmates they want to befriend, which to keep as school acquaintances only, and which to distance themselves from. Some teens deliberately seek friends who are good influences--that is, they may enjoy socializing, but they also care about their school performance. Fiona, a middle schooler, says, "My parents expect me to do well and I do, mostly. To help, I hang out with the smarter kids that feel the same way about school that I do, so I don't have to worry about them thinking that I'm a drag if I have to do my homework."

Parents rarely find fault with this approach. More typically, however, mothers and fathers become anxious when their daughters befriend kids who are not achievers. It is usually unhelpful to point out to your daughter the disadvantages of such friendships; to demonstrate their autonomy, in fact, girls sometimes cling to unhealthy friendships only because their parents condemn them.

It should be reassuring to know your daughter is unlikely to catch the indifference of her less academically inclined friends. The more you have encouraged her to know herself, to stay in touch with her true desires, and to feel good about her accomplishments, the more immune she will be to negative influences. Clara says:

It may sound selfish, but as you grow you focus on yourself more. You're aware of everybody else, but you try to increase your own strengths and what you need to do to improve. What everyone else does starts to be less important. You have to be who you are and be happy with what you do. Freshman year I was so focused on whatever everyone else thought. It's weird to look back. I feel a lot different.

Also, if you see your daughter disentangling herself from old friendships, don't panic. This is most likely a healthy move. In fact, recent research counteracts the old notion that teenagers who switch social groups are in trouble. In one longitudinal study, three quarters of the peers whom high school seniors named as their closest friends were not even mentioned during these students' sophomore year.

Teenagers who made changes in their friendship circles cited adaptive reasons: they changed interests or activities, encountered conflicts, changed classes (and, therefore, classmates), wanted more fluid groups, and tried to avoid contact with drugs and alcohol. In my experience, teen girls most often change social groups when they are uncomfortable with their friends' values or activities.

If your daughter feels disconnected, encourage her to participate in after-school activities. Getting involved in chorus, stage crew, or community service lets her mingle with students whose shared interest can become the basis for friendships. If she is still reluctant, meeting the teachers in charge of the clubs could ease the way. If there is no late bus in the afternoon, offer to pick her up after her activity or arrange for a car pool so that she is not burdened with finding transportation.

Avoid Alienating People
Socially skilled girls can maintain relationships because they can get their needs met while remaining respectful of others. For example, they offer their opinions and even debate without alienating their peers or adults. They steer clear of making arguments personal, putting people down, or being condescending. What guides them is their ability to read others' emotional reactions and monitor their own behavior.

Girls who are eager to fit in at new schools or those who struggle with more chronic insecurity sometimes try too hard and strike the wrong note. They may seek attention and approval through silliness or put-downs or meanness. Does your daughter stick up for herself without becoming nasty or hostile? Can she avoid blurting out insensitive or offensive comments? Does she listen attentively to others without interrupting or becoming argumentative? If she hears her voice getting too strident or sarcastic, does she tone it down? It is important that she gauge the effect she has on others.

More on: Teen Stress

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From Stressed-Out Girls: Helping Them Thrive in the Age of Pressure by Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.


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