Nurturing Your Son's Social Life

Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. In this piece, written exclusively for Everton Academy, Amy discusses some simple ways in which a parent can support their child’s social life. 

Nurturing Your Son’s Social Life
By Amy Alamar

When children start school, they begin to take greater notice of what other children are doing. At around 7 or 8-years old, they begin to care more about what other children are doing, especially if it’s different from what they’re doing. By 9 or 10-years old, they begin to care what other children are thinking. During these years, there’s also a transition in your family as you go from being your child’s primary role model to advisor. As young children, they hang on your every word and form their opinions around what you say. If your son is still at that stage, savour it. Very soon they develop their own unique personality, which will be greatly impacted by their peers.
As boys develop, they form their own version of what it means to be a man. They are influenced by family, friends, their community, media, and society. They internalise images and messages to define, for themselves, what it means to be a man. Remember, your son, even your teenager, is still a child. He’s developing emotionally, cognitively, and physically. His analytical thinking or deeper voice may signal that he’s on his way to manhood, but his brain will not actually be fully developed until his early twenties. Throughout his preadolescent and adolescent years, his social life will take shape and, he will likely experiment with who he is and who he wants to be. Here are some tips to guide and support his social life:
Understand friendships: You can’t control whom your son befriends, but it’s important that you support the friendships he is cultivating. Invite his friends to your home, talk with them, and chat with their parents. It’s always good to know who your child’s influences are. Take time to understand your child’s relationships before judging them. 
Give him some space:  Family time should be a priority, but it’s also important to allow time for your son to socialise with his peers and make connections outside the family.  This will help him develop mentally and emotionally. 
Relationship review: Are you too involved in your son’s life? Not involved enough? While he should not dictate your parenting - it's good to get a sense of how present he would like you to be - and perhaps why. This can help you choose how and when to step in and when to step back.
Embrace technology: The reality is, we live in the digital age and our devices bring us ease, convenience, and, yes, headaches. Social media and gaming offer social opportunities that can be fruitful, especially for young people who have trouble socialising. Don’t fight it, but do keep an eye on his interactions (monitor closely with young boys and allow some freedoms as they get older). Be mindful of bad influences online and help your child understand the potential dangers. If you’re nervous to introduce technology, it’s ok to wait, but make sure your restrictions are not driven by your own fear or inexperience with technology.
Be aware: While social media can be a terrific asset, you want to make sure your son is also developing interpersonal skills. For example, you can encourage him to address difficult conversations face-to-face (with a teammate or coach) rather than through email or text. Another tricky concept is the myth of multitasking where your son thinks he can text, listen to music and study simultaneously. Multitasking rarely yields any true “tasking.” It’s nearly impossible to give full attention to two (or more) things at once. You can read more about how to create a positive study environment in our Exam Revision feature. 
Listen, don’t fix: Your boy will get hurt and he will hurt others. This is part of the natural progression of life. It’s painful to see your child hurt, and it’s important let him experience those feelings and work through them. Teach him to advocate for himself, for example, if he has questions about his football progress or how he did on a maths test. If he’s open to it, share some of your coping mechanisms and then let him find his own. 

The emotional roller coaster: Social norms often dictate that boys not share their feelings, but that’s simply not healthy, and puts them at risk of not developing authentic, honest relationships. Allow your son to express his feelings. You don’t always have to validate his behaviour, but you should validate his feelings. 

What makes a good friend: Encourage your son to develop friendships in various settings (school, team, neighbourhood, etc.). If he is struggling with personal problems this networking will provide him with options and a range of people to turn to.
As a parent, it’s important to help your player grow emotionally and socially. And don’t assume that everything is fine just because he hasn’t approached you with any problems or concerns. You must keep the conversation open. Being there for him shows what a strong relationship involves. And sticking with him through the rough patches shows him he can rise through conflict. You can’t fix everything but you should stay vigilant and aware of what’s taking place in your son’s life since his emotional well-being is crucial to his development and to the dynamic of your entire family. It may be difficult to watch him develop independence, (he’s not your little boy anymore) but so important. Letting go of him will help him flourish. And remember that just because you may be spending less time together, you are still helping him to be his own person - whom you will have a better relationship with for life.