Most human beings have the opportunity to experience the various stages of development along the way to adulthood. During each phase of our lives we are presented with various opportunities, challenges, and changes. There are also similarities across the phases of development and one very important feeling is being connected with someone else and having a “me too” feeling. These feelings of connection are created through having a similar thought, feeling, opinion, idea, interest, or experience as someone else.
When we engage in conversation with others, we are inviting others to get to know us and possibly for the opportunity to connect. Children thrive on their connections with their parents and feel fulfilled in those relationships. Then suddenly to the dismay of parents, teenagers crave connection and validation from their peers.
Sometimes teenagers have difficulty communicating with their peers, which decreases their opportunities for connection. Usually difficulties with communication are related to self-confidence, feelings of embarrassment, feelings of anxiety, or diagnosed disorders. During a time in life when social connections are the number one priority, fewer connections can cause varying amounts of sadness and anxiety.
How do we create opportunities for our teenagers to make connections? Teenagers can participate in group activities at school or in the community. It is important to find a group that matches the teenager’s personal interests since that will increase their opportunity to find another peer who has similar interests.
For teenagers who struggle with moderate to severe levels of anxiety or a diagnosed disorder, the setting of a social skills group may be more appropriate. Social skills groups consist of a group of similar aged children or adolescents with related social difficulties and a trained facilitator. The benefit of having a trained facilitator run the group is their ability to encourage and increase opportunities for connection as well as manage any group dynamics that may distract from the connection process.
I have observed children and teenagers make connections through simple statements during groups, such as my favorite color is green or my favorite food is pizza. The listening group members jump at the chance to say I like green too and I like pizza too! I feel excitement and warmth when I witness two individuals making a connection even if the interaction only lasts a few seconds. Groups create opportunities for a greater number of connections and the possibility of meaningful connections. Statements about favorite colors and pizza transform over time to teenagers sharing their thoughts and feelings. It is a special experience to witness a teenager share they are experiencing a feeling and for their peer to share yeah, me too.