by Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP
Teenagers are individuals between the ages of 13 to 19. Another word for teenagers
is adolescents. As a group, teenagers face unique challenges as they grow from childhood
and prepare to enter adulthood. This can be a very stressful time. Also, school
demands increase for teenagers, and they need to be more independent as they manage
challenging assignments, interact with peers, and participate in extracurricular
activities such as music, dance, sports, etc. To do all of this, they must communicate
clearly and effectively. For a teenager with special needs (such as a language or
learning disability), the struggle to “keep up,” “fit in,” or “say the right thing”
can be even more difficult.
There are many different skills a teenager must acquire to be successful in both
school and social situations. Interpersonal communication, or communication between
people, is one of the most important skills. Learning interpersonal skills is a
normal part of growing and developing. The more teenagers interact with their peers
in and out of the classroom, the more opportunities they have to develop good communication.
Classroom Communication – “Making the Grade”
Classroom communication includes reading, speaking, listening, and writing. Teenagers
need to be successful with these tasks to do well in school. A deficit in one or
more of these areas may result in poor grades and poor self-esteem. Some specific
communication skills teenagers need to understand and use include: higher-level
vocabulary, figurative language or “reading between the lines,” and pragmatics or
social skills. Social skills in group activities include turn taking, staying on
topic, and requesting or giving information. Showing proper body language, expressing
feelings, and being polite are other important communication skills that help a
teenager succeed in the classroom.
Social Communication – Making Friends
Social communication includes verbal (spoken) and nonverbal (unspoken) interactions.
During the teen years, social communication is especially important. Teenagers strongly
focus on relationships with their peers. They want to make friends and go out together.
To do this successfully, they need to communicate socially. Some social-language
situations include: making plans for the weekend, solving problems between friends,
and working together on a project outside of school. All of these situations require
certain language and vocabulary. Each situation also requires teenagers to use nonverbal
communication like eye contact and respecting one’s “personal space.” A teenager
who struggles to communicate socially—either verbally, nonverbally, or both—may
appear shy, become angry, or have difficulty with confrontation, such as a bully.
Ways to Practice Communication Skills
There are many ways to practice classroom- and social-communication skills. Teenagers
with special needs, in particular, may need direct teaching for these skills. Try
these ideas to give teenagers opportunities to communicate with each other.
Role-playing – Put teenagers in small groups. Give them a situation like “Pretend
you are standing at your lockers. You are making plans with your classmates to work
on the science project outside of school. What would you say?” Have them practice
the situation in their group then act out the situation in front of the class.
Videos – Let teenagers see video examples of individuals communicating in different
situations both in and out of the school setting. Once you watch video examples,
have a discussion. Have the students create lists of “successful” and “unsuccessful”
behavior and communication.
Peer Mentoring – Pair teenagers together for a variety of activities. A peer mentor
can “coach” another student by giving advice about schoolwork, friendships, etc.
Check with the guidance counselor, social worker, or school psychologist for further
suggestions about ways in which peers can support each other.
Extracurricular Activities – Involve teenagers in activities like sports, clubs,
or volunteer work. These activities provide many opportunities for building communication