social scene

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My two teenage girls and I recently had an illuminating discussion about what I’ll call the Teen Social Kingdom, of which some kids always seem to emerge the rulers, though seldom for reasons that make any sense. But let me add that I use the term “ruler” somewhat facetiously, because the real rulers, if you will, are often those who, like Shakespeare’s famous Fools, know how to move around with ease, usually on the down low, interacting as successfully with the “powerful” as they do with those out of favor, sometimes even content to be their own best company.  Stick with me while I explore the business of acquiring the skills required for a certain level of what we might call social success, something I realize can benefit those of us in the Kingdom of Adults just as well as it can the teenagers in our lives.

Today’s tools.  One:  talk less, listen more. This tool is designed for people who love to talk and who may be unaware of the way in which they sometimes eclipse others.  Every teen you know probably knows someone who jumps into a conversation, hijacks it, and steers it to their own story (which simply cannot wait to be told, it’s so interesting).  And on the off chance that that person is one of our own teens, a discussion about this can be both useful and gentle.  If we have a brilliant talker/storyteller on our hands, we can acknowledge the gift but also point out the powerful social currency we accrue to ourselves as we practice giving others a turn on center stage, thus framing the issue as a potential win-win for everyone involved.

During my conversation with my girls, I asked them, “Have you ever been in a conversation where? . . .”–an attempt to get them thinking about their own moments with friends who may constantly jump in with a “You guys you guys oh my gosh I totally have the funniest thing to tell you! . . .” Often, the young person who does this is a) unaware of the habit, and b) not intentionally trying to make the other participants in a conversation feel shunted aside or unimportant. But bottom line, that can be the net effect, right?  Curiously, sometimes The Talker has a following–a retinue of faithful listeners who would rather sacrifice their own opportunity to tell their bit of something than not be among the “privileged” hearers. I knew just a person when I was young. She was fun, magnetic, and in fact drew crowds just by opening her mouth. And I definitely wasted all kinds of perfectly useful time resenting her talent.

So what could I have done instead? What could our kids do?  Consider tool number two, especially useful for the individual often relegated to the status of serial listener.   When a Serial Talker is winding up, politely (and I do mean politely) find somewhere . . . else . . . to be. It’s hard to resent someone when you’re not physically present in the venue likely to provoke the resentment.  In short, go do your own thing.  Having said that, I want to acknowledge how tricky this can be for teens, who can be very tribal.  When I brought up tool number two with my daughters, we talked about how much power there was in being willing to be a “tribe of one” during those moments that are never going to end differently, not until Mr. or Miss Talker wises up and decides to give others a turn both to speak and to shine.

Ideally, the Somewhere Else ought to be a place that’s happy, not just a place to pout. Why? Because there’s power in being your own best company for a while.  In fact, those who appear happy doing whatever they’re doing inevitably attract people to themselves. Why this is so, I don’t know, but it seems to be a law of nature–as true for everyone as it is for teens.  Think, for example, of the kid in the sandbox who’s having such a good time with a few rocks (as opposed to the very cool toy the Sandbox King is playing with) that eventually everyone heads on over to check out the rocks.  Restated, tool number two is learn to be happy doing your own thing.

Review.  One.  To build social success, listen more than you talk.  A lifelong pursuit, this empowers the listener to become more mature and selfless, qualities even a pack of Teen Royals might, if pressed, confess to admiring. And two, if we have a (fed up) serial listener on our hands, someone who resents never being in the spotlight, we can invite them to practice the art–even for an hour at a time–of being a “pack of one,” finding other outlets for their time and energies.  This not only builds self-confidence but also allows teens to venture into areas of interest they might not otherwise have connected with.  And the side benefit:  humans of all ages love to be around someone who’s cool doing their own thing.

Thoughts? Please chime in. As you can tell, I rather fancy myself the storyteller these days, but I am an eager listener, too. Really–I’m all ears!

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