Social media has transformed the way we communicate. With the tap of a finger, we can connect with almost anyone, in real time, directly from our smartphones. But, as we’ve become more interactive with others online, we’re now less likely to engage with people offline.

For children and teens in particular, this shift can greatly impact their ability to interact with people around them, also known as social wellness. With social media networks growing in popularity among youth - over 60% of teens are active on social media per AACAP - it’s important for them to develop the interpersonal skills needed to interact face-to-face with others.

How Social Media Affects Social Wellness

On social media, connections are created by “following” someone’s profile and interactions are typically limited to “likes,” shares and comments. Children and teens are increasingly forming these weak ties online and missing out on the interpersonal skills needed to build strong, healthy relationships in person.

Teaching Interpersonal Skills to Students

Centered on communication and interaction, interpersonal skills like listening, problem-solving and verbal and nonverbal communication are key to building positive relationships throughout life. Read on for five tips to strengthen students’ interpersonal skills in the classroom or afterschool program:

● Encourage active listening. This requires the listener to pay attention to verbal and nonverbal signals in order to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. This article from Edutopia shares five tactics for helping students become better listeners.

● Foster collaboration. Students may have mixed feelings about group work, but it helps to build valuable skills that will benefit them far beyond the classroom. Collaboration promotes student agency and teaches skills such as decision-making, accountability and delegation. These PBL activities at the Olander School for Project-Based Learning are great for student collaboration.

● Teach conflict resolution. Help students learn how to keep calm when conflicts arise (like counting to ten), how to come up with a good apology and how to find solutions to their conflicts. When possible, avoid interfering in students’ conflicts and allow them to resolve them on their own.

● Promote tolerance. Explain that people may have different perspectives, personalities and opinions from their own, and that’s okay. Teaching empathy is a great way to promote tolerance and acceptance and to help students navigate those differences. Use this quick-guide from TeachThought to teach empathy in the classroom.

● Role play. Reinforce expectations by having students practice scenarios that challenge their interpersonal skills. Younger students can focus on scenarios like how to respond to a classmate who won’t share or how to communicate their feelings. For older students, pose more complex situations like presenting an opposing opinion or pitching an idea to a group.

In the age of social media, it can be easy to forget the skills needed to build positive relationships offline. Use the above tactics to strengthen students’ interpersonal skills and promote social wellness in your program.