Dear teen son,
There are many different skills you’ll need to learn during these pivotal years that will help you be responsible and successful when you’re on your own. You know we are pretty intent on teaching you the values and virtues we uphold in our family and seeing you demonstrate them in your choices every day brings me so much joy. Being a teen can be hard and I am so proud of who you are growing up to be.
There is, however, one area we need to address that I’ve seen other teen boys struggle with too. It’s your (in)ability to demonstrate basic interpersonal skills when you are engaging with other people. Of course, conversations with your friends will be different, but when you are communicating with anyone else, especially adults, you need to practice good people skills to do it well. This will require some effort and discomfort on your part, I know it doesn’t come naturally. I get that, I really do. It’s just not your thing, and really, I believe most kids your age feel the same way, especially boys.
How you connect with people will play a big part in all areas of your life as you grow up and become an adult. You will need to interact well with your teachers, your coaches, your bosses, and whatever customers you serve in whatever jobs you hold. It’s a reflection of who you are to be polite, attentive, and respectful, so it’s critical you learn to master these five fundamental social skills.
- Always look people in the eyes when you are talking with them.
I know it’s really uncomfortable to look someone straight in their eyes, but looking down or all-around or (especially) on your phone, while in a conversation with someone else, appears rude and disrespectful. Be mindful of this when you greet people and any time you are talking with someone else. No matter how distracting the situation is, no matter what more important things are going on around you, please try to keep eye contact throughout your entire interaction.
When you do this, you are showing the person they are important to you and they are worth your attention. I know you’d rather look away, I know it feels weird, but the more you practice looking people in their eyes, the easier it will get. This one simple change will make a world of difference in having positive conversations with others.
- Speak clearly and use full sentences when you talk to people.
It’s fine if you talk to me with your one-word answers, like “Ok” or “Fine” when I ask you something because I’m your mom and I can push you to say more when that’s not enough. But when someone else asks you a question, please use your words in full sentences. This shows maturity on your part and also tells the other person you care about the conversation and you want to engage.
When you talk to someone else, try really hard not to mumble softly so people can barely hear you. I know you can be shy and you don’t mean to be rude, but unfortunately, it can look that way. Speak up when you’re talking and think carefully about what you are saying. You are smart and have important things to say, so say them with clarity and expand your vocabulary beyond those one-word answers. Perhaps you could even ask them a question too! That’s how conversations go. They should not be one-sided. But you knew that, right?
- Listen carefully when someone is talking to you.
When you are having a discussion with anyone, please make sure you really pay attention to what they are saying. It doesn’t matter if it’s important to you, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s boring or uninteresting, it doesn’t matter if you disagree with what they are saying. Many conversations you have with other people will be like this, but you need to put effort into them still.
Throughout your life, you will meet and spend time with people who have different views about things. You will have conversations you’d rather not be in and others you might feel are a waste of time, but listening to what people have to say is a basic act of decency, and everyone deserves that. Always remember that what they are saying matters to them, so make sure they feel heard. This is the considerate thing to do. When you’re talking, don’t you want people to pay attention and listen to you? Do the same for others.
- Always be Polite.
I want you to grow up to be a gentleman, which means you need to practice basic manners regularly. Any time you are asking something from someone else, please say “Please”. (See what I did there?) Even the smallest requests deserve a simple “Please”. This word reflects an appreciation for what you are asking them to do. It’s equally important to say “Thank you” when anyone does something for you or says something kind. It’s a form of gratitude that will not go unnoticed.
And please be mindful of the people around you. Say, “Excuse me” when you accidentally bump into someone, interrupt someone, or walk in front of someone. Hold the door open for those who are coming through it before you, with you, or even after you. And if you notice someone who needs a helping hand, don’t hesitate to jump right in. That’s what polite people do.
- Smile when you greet someone.
I know there is nothing worse than a forced smile. It is awkward and uncomfortable and often looks that way too. I know you think you have to appear tough and keep a straight face, but when you smile at someone, you show them you are happy to see them and that matters. This small gesture can have a big impact on someone else. You might not care if other people smile at you, but if you really tune into this, I bet you’ll realize it makes you feel good too. Smiling makes everyone feel special, even teen boys.
Sometimes not smiling when you greet someone can make you look rude, unhappy, or uninterested. Smiling is a critical piece to connection and a significant part of engaging with others on a positive level. When you interview for jobs and work with coworkers and customers, this habit will surely make a difference. When you talk with other adults or meet new friends, or even like a girl, I promise you, smiling will go a long way.
I know all these things don’t come easily for you, but they are essential to communicating positively with everyone in your life. Developing and maintaining relationships is the key to success in everything you do. I’ll help you hone these habits so that you can grow up to be a polite well-mannered young man.
Let’s wrap this up with a nice summary that will be easy for you to understand:
When you are talking with someone, smile, and look them in the eyes, listen to what they are saying and speak in full clear sentences. If they say or do something kind, say “Thank you” and if you are requesting anything from them, say “Please.” And always pay attention to other people around you. Be polite, cordial, and helpful wherever you go. It’s really as simple as that.