Maximize Your Daughter's Social Skills

Work Well in Groups
For many girls, the chance to work on assignments or projects in groups is a reprieve from being sentenced to study in solitary confinement. But collaborating with classmates requires more advanced social skills. Girls must be able to contribute to discussions without monopolizing airtime. They have to balance being creative with staying on track. Does your daughter initiate partnerships? Can she work cooperatively? Is she a team player? Or does she take over, do all the work, and then feel resentful? Can she take stock of her partners' strengths and use them toward the common goal?

The most socially skilled girls (and perhaps future managers) use diplomacy and fairness to divide tasks effectively, foster group decision making, reach a consensus, and forge cohesion. If your daughter lacks these skills, provide her examples of good leadership and cooperation from your school or work experience. Share with her what you have learned from biographies of successful leaders--or read one together. Consider signing her up for a summer program that develops group cohesion and leadership skills, such as those offered by volunteer groups or Outward Bound.

Manage Competition
In the best of worlds, girls benefit from healthy competition. They enjoy the camaraderie of working with friends and rally around each other to boost everyone's performance. Jade, a sophomore, describes, "Last year in bio, there was a big competition with our grades. It made us do so well. We'd do everything together, then we'd break up and have this huge competition. If someone did bad, we'd laugh about it. It boosted our motivation. It was a friendly competition."

With the high level of nervous energy circulating today, however, many girls find it hard to manage the competitive feelings that academics and sports engender. Since they believe their future success is hinging on every single grade, win, or award, seeing others' accomplishments can inflame their insecurity and threaten their relationships. For perfectionists, the need to be the very best makes everyone a potential competitor.

Socially skilled girls keep their relationships on track by monitoring the competition between their friends and themselves. They prevent themselves from being cutthroat. When they surpass a friend, they pay close attention to her facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language to sense whether she is feeling threatened or insecure. As always, though, socially skilled girls walk a fine line. "If my friend is in trouble," a high school sophomore told me, "I'll help her out. She can rely on me. But you also don't want to rub it in their face if you do better."

The most resilient girls are also aware of how they react to others' successes. They know that when they get back grades, they look around for clues as to how they performed compared to their friends. According to one middle schooler, "If my best friend is smiling, I think she's happy and she must've done better than me. Maybe she's just smarter." Another told me, "Every time a test is handed back, people ask me what my grade is. I'll admit I do that too. And the annoying thing is that maybe I'll get a B and I'm happy with it, but then someone gets a B plus and complains, you know?"

Ideally, girls learn to accept that they will not always be first or best. They stop looking over their shoulders. Some even begin to take joy in their friends' accomplishments and talents. Sasha, a junior, tells me:

As a freshman, I really wanted to do well. I was seriously hurt when other people didn't do anything and got better grades than me. Some people go out every day after school with their friends and still make honor roll. Now that I've gone through high school for a while, I know myself as a student better and I've gotten used to the way things are. I know my friends' strengths and weaknesses, and I just take it at that. I know Jen always gets an A. It's okay.

More on: Teen Stress

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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