Supporting Parents. Fostering Change.

Learning the Secret Handshake

By Bob Axelrod, LCSW

When you listen to your kids talk about school and their friends, does it sometimes feel like they are part of a secret society that we, as parents, cannot understand? Have you watched a group of middle schoolers interact with each other? There are so many unspoken rules of communication between them. There is face to face interaction, online exchanges, ways to behave in groups of just boys, groups of just girls and of course when boys and girls are together. For a “typical” child, these different scenarios are hard to manage. For quirky teens-ones who may lack fundamental social skills, it is easy to imagine how they quickly become outsiders in their own peer group.

So the question becomes, how can a child learn these elusive rules? The answer is actually the same as it would be if he were learning to play soccer, earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, or mastering a new language. It takes enormous effort and practice. For teens with little social acumen, effort and practice are just as important. As a therapist for over 30 years, I have seen this in action. I have watched these kids work at making friends, having conversations and reading social cues from others.

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