Originally published: June 2022
Here’s a new acronym for your teen parenting playbook: SEL. It stands for social emotional learning– the process of learning everyday skills like how to handle emotions, cope with stress, interact with others, and solve problems. SEL has traction in elementary schools, but it’s not just for young kids. Studies show that SEL helps teens thrive at school, work, and in life.
Social emotional skills can be taught with formal instruction (like lessons at school) or through informal learning with day-to-day experiences (like communicating with others, building relationships, or dealing with challenges).
Here are 10 great ways you can support your teen’s SEL journey.
1. Expand their emotion vocabulary
Teach teens to name and describe their emotions and moods – it’s the first step in handling them. Take it beyond basic terms (like happy, sad, or mad) with tools like the Atlas of Emotions or The Feelings Wheel.
2. Guide problem solving
Make an effort to really listen when your teen shares their problems with you, like when they talk about challenges in friendships or dating relationships. Try not to jump in with opinions or ideas to improve a situation. Instead, help them brainstorm solutions and think through possibilities.
3. Give them responsibilities
Talk with your teen about ways they can contribute at home and in the community. Together, figure out tasks that suit their age, interests and talents – they could walk the dog, weed the community garden, or join a youth advisory council. Offering your teen choices in what they do builds their confidence and helps them feel valued and respected.
4. Help them plan
Don’t assume that your teen knows how to juggle daily activities like school, sport, homework, and volunteering. Help them figure out routines that work for them, and try different ways of staying organized. For example, use print or digital calendars, planners, or scheduling apps. Check in often. Talk through key tasks and help your teen decide how they’ll focus their time.
5. Focus on their strengths
Talk with your teen about their strengths – qualities like honesty, kindness, and persistence. Notice and acknowledge when they show their strengths, and try not to compare them to their siblings or peers.
6. Put them in the driver's seat
Think of your teen as your co-pilot in decisions that affect them. Give them an equal role in deciding things like what to do after school, how to style their hair, or where to go on your next family vacation. Listen and respect their ideas, even if they’re different than your own. With this flexible approach, you’ll get your teen reflecting on options, weighing pros and cons, and thinking through consequences.
7. Teach them how to cope with stress
Encourage your teen to try different ways of coping with stress. Help them explore physical activities (like soccer or cycling), calming activities (like art or yoga), cultural activities (like traditional dance or music) or spending time outside. Show them calming tips and how-to videos from Kids Help Phone, such as breathing balloon or tension release exercise.
8. Help them work toward goals
Help your teen set ambitious goals and work toward them with small, realistic steps. Whether they’re learning to drive, training for their first job, or trying a new sport, they’ll likely need your support along the way. Show them how to break big goals into smaller, doable parts. Celebrate small wins along the way – it helps them stay motivated.
9. Reframe mistakes
Remind your teen that it’s normal to make mistakes or have set-backs with goals. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and apologize. Talk about how you’ll make things right and what you’ll do differently next time. This approach frames mistakes as opportunities for learning. It helps teens feel capable, optimistic, and in control.
10. Be there
Show your teen that you’re there for them, always. Treat them with respect and kindness, and try not to criticize or judge. By interacting with your teen in positive ways, you signal to them how much you care. You also model skills for healthy relationships.