Friends at School

Building (Real) Friendships in the Age of Snapchat and Instagram

Developing social skills does not come naturally to tweens and teens with ADHD. Here’s how to improve your child’s skills and help him or her avoid setbacks in middle school.

How to Be Your Tween's Social Skills Coach
A line of children looking down at their phones

Middle school is a tricky time for students with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), given the increased workload and multiple classes and projects. But perhaps the hardest challenge is navigating the social landscape of adolescence.

Because of surging hormones, heightened emotions, increased self-consciousness, and a natural drive for more independence, the pressure can be intense, and it comes at a time when social status suddenly matters a lot. Rumors, gossip, and/or bullying are pervasive. Friendships are tested as social circles shift. And for kids with ADHD, many of whom have trouble making and keeping friends, this time of life can be rife with setbacks.

Do you know how to support your middle schooler who’s struggling in his or her social life? By paying attention and using a teen’s everyday experiences as access points, you have all the tools you need to increase your child’s social awareness right now. Here are five ideas to get started:

Use Technology to Bolster Communication with Your Teen

Most middle schoolers are glued to their phones and other devices, so why not use them to convey social lessons? In an interview for my podcast, Devorah Heitner, Ph.D., author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. said, “If you have a kid who has a hard time figuring out the unspoken social rules in verbal communication, she may do better with digital communication.”

In helping our kids become smart social media engagers, we can teach them a lot about how to respectfully communicate, understand how messages might be misinterpreted, and more. My 14-year-old son Asher has learned how to negotiate and problem-solve with other kids during Minecraft games played over Skype. If your child’s class has a WhatsApp group, talk about what’s going on there: How are classmates treating each other? What kinds of social problems are cropping up and why?

[Free ADHD Resource: Middle School Success Strategies]

Popular apps, like Instagram and Snapchat, offer lots of opportunities for kids to consider social rules and etiquette. The possibilities are endless. Though the landscape is virtual, the experiences and emotions are real, and so are the lessons that can be learned.

“Reverse Teach” Social Awareness to Teens with ADHD

I’m a little pleased any time my son tells me he’s turned off by another kid’s behavior. I’m not happy he’s annoyed, but I see this as the perfect opening for a conversation about how everyone has their own beliefs, ideals, thoughts, and ways of moving through the world. Since many kids with ADHD are “concrete thinkers,” appreciating the differences in others may be a stretch, so the more we can work this message into our everyday lives, the better. Asking our children how others might perceive their behavior is a powerful way to build self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Don’t Embarrass, Shame, or Judge Your Teen

Middle schoolers are sensitive to anything they perceive as criticism. They are looking to conform and fit in, so drawing their attention to what they’re doing wrong—and standing out in a negative way—won’t be welcomed. Rather than pointing out what you think is creating problems for them, ask open-ended questions to get them thinking.

  • What do you think might be going on here?
  • How do you think [insert name of other child] is feeling about this situation?
  • Did you notice anything different about how [insert name of other child] reacted?

[Comeback Kids: Getting Through the Middle School Years]

Leave long pauses to give your child a chance to respond. We want him to truly consider these questions and tell you how he sees things.

Recognize That Times Have Changed

The landscape our kids are growing up in is much different than the one we grew up in. Social media and the way kids engage with each other mean the rules have changed. Do your best to stay up-to-date on current trends in social communication and continue to find ways to use the media to further emotional development.

Don’t Let Your Emotional Baggage Get in the Way

We parents have survived our middle school years, and most of us have leftover “baggage” stemming from our own social lives as teens — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Maybe we were ostracized by the “cool kids,” and want to save our child from the same fate. Maybe we spent years feeling out of place and depressed, and we want to make sure our child skips that kind of unpleasantness.

It’s critical that we don’t project our past problems onto what’s happening with our child. See your child’s social life objectively, and filter out your own residual insecurities to avoid fixing “problems” that may not be problems for your child after all. Remember that each child is on her own journey—her own experiences will inform the person she becomes.

[How to Help My Middle-Schooler Make Friends]

Updated on March 6, 2019

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