How to Teach Teens Communication Style

three girls sitting by field of tulips laughing and talking using communication style

This blog post is part of a series that provides lesson plans and communication activities for teaching teens communication skills. This post shares resources to teach teens communication and how self-esteem and self-concept influence their communication style.

Background

For a long time, I have been teaching communication and conflict management skills to people of all ages. For over twenty years, I have developed curriculum and lesson plans for post-secondary students, teachers, and high school students. I was also a mediator for fourteen years, helping people to resolve their differences.

Teens and Effective Communication

Teens need strong communication skills to thrive in high school and beyond. Students should be able to communicate effectively with peers, adults, and professionals in various settings. Effective communication skills are social skills and they enable teens to manage relationships effectively, express their thoughts and feelings clearly, resolve conflict constructively, and collaborate with others. In developing these skills, students must learn to think critically. Critical thinking is an important skill that allows students to recognize issues and deal with them creatively.

Unfortunately, many teenagers lack effective communication skills to communicate their ideas, thoughts, and emotions. As a result, some feel shy and lonely. They lack social support, take insufficient risks, and cannot communicate effectively with others. They also have difficulties in making friends and resolving conflicts.

Low Self-Esteem

High school is a turbulent time for many teenagers. Adolescents may feel less happy with their families, friends, school, and personal appearance as they move into secondary school. This is especially true for girls, who tend to feel more unhappy in these areas than boys. However, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and that not all young people feel this way. Teaching teens to have a healthy relationship with themself first, and then others is essential to set them up for healthy communication as effective communicators.

Statistics

The following statistics were compiled by the Education Policy Institute (2021) and they focus on the developing mental health of young people as they transition from middle school to high school:

  • As children move into adolescence, their self-esteem tends to fall. 
  • As adolescents move through secondary school, they experience increased psychological distress. 
  • Girls typically have higher levels of distress than boys at age 14 and, on average, see a more significant increase in distress during adolescence. 
  • Young people report increased worry and pressure as they progress through secondary school.
  • As young people get older, their self-esteem becomes more closely tied to their well-being and levels of psychological distress. This is of particular concern for girls, who often have lower self-esteem than boys.
  • Self-esteem is an important factor in predicting both well-being and psychological distress.
  • As young people get older, they tend to become more aware of their self-worth and how it affects their overall well-being. This is especially true for girls, whose self-esteem is more closely linked to their levels of psychological distress.
  • The self-esteem of girls plummets during the ages of 11 to 14. For example, at age 11, only 15% of surveyed girls said they were unhappy with their appearance. But by age 14, that number had nearly doubled to 29%.
  • Girls’ self-esteem remains consistent as they enter late adolescence, but boys’ self-esteem continues to decline. 
  • In focus groups, young people highlighted the transition to secondary school as a particularly difficult time for their self-esteem. They reported increased concerns about being judged and not fitting in.
  • Young people stressed the pressure from expected standards they felt they had to fit. In addition, concerns were about being laughed at and called names, including for caring about their schoolwork and grades.

Healthy Self-Esteem

It is essential for high school students to develop strong communication skills and healthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem identifies what teens like about themselves, allowing them to feel good about who they are and providing resilience when life knocks them back. Where there is a healthy balance between being self-confident and modest, there will be a much greater chance of achieving emotional stability, greater self-awareness, resilience, and social success.

Healthy self-esteem allows teenagers to feel good about themselves, become more resilient and independent, cope better with the challenges of adolescence, and prepare them for the future. Developing these skills includes understanding how different communication styles can affect self-esteem. For example, individuals who are shy or have a more passive communication style may be more likely to internalize negative comments and allow them to impact their self-esteem. Alternatively, someone with a more assertive or outgoing personality might be better able to brush off negative comments and not let them affect their view of themselves.

Developing Self-Esteem in Teens

Teenagers need to identify their own set of values, goals, and beliefs, find ways to express themselves, develop the respect and trust of others, maintain realistic self-appraisals, and enjoy satisfying relationships. They should also be self-disciplined, realistic in their assessments of themselves, living in the here-and-now, and also able to take on a positive perspective of the future.

For teens, it’s normal to start questioning who they are and their place in the world. They might begin to feel like they’re not good enough, that everyone else knows more than they do. But healthy self-esteem can help teenagers weather these storms. With a strong sense of self-worth, teens can become more resilient and independent, cope better with the challenges of adolescence, and develop the communication skills they need to express themselves clearly and assertively. 

Teenage students need the availability of alternative sources of social support as they develop their identities. This means helping them build skills in the areas of vital communication skills, self-esteem, and life skills that allow them to make their own choices, choose healthy social connections, and respond to the stresses of life without lashing out and without retreating into themselves.

Essential Skills for Teens

Many youths are unable to handle stress effectively and find themselves in a communication crisis. They lack skills to manage emotions and express themselves effectively and often believe they can’t address a problem or feel so powerless that they become withdrawn. The skill of self-expression is one of the soft skills teens learn to become better communicators. This is why it is crucial to understand their perspective on the world, not as we wish it to be. 

It is always hard to hear teens describe something they have done or said that makes them feel angry, sad, or fearful. But suppose we can understand where they are coming from and respond with empathy and compassion. In that case, we are better positioned to help teens grow and develop into emotionally mature young adults.

A self-worth deficit can lead teens to believe they’re not good enough and may seek to fill that void elsewhere. Many teens have an idealized image of what they can become and where they can go in life, but without important communication skills and support to achieve these goals, they may become frustrated and believe their life is meaningless.

Teaching Teens Communication Skills

Strong communication skills enable teens to manage their relationships effectively, express their thoughts and feelings clearly, resolve conflict constructively, and collaborate with others. Solid communication skills allow high school students to manage their relationships effectively. When submerged in the various social roles of high school, whether it be friend, romantic partner, employee, teammate, etc., having a firm grasp of how to communicate in a healthy way will result in smoother, more positive interactions. 

In addition, expressing thoughts and feelings is another valuable asset of good communication skills. If individuals can learn how to communicate what they are thinking or feeling accurately, they are more likely to feel self-assured in their abilities to solve their problems. 

Here is a list of subjects for teaching teens effective communication skills that lead to future success:

  • how to be a good listener
  • conversation skills
  • small talk
  • open-ended questions
  • nonverbal communication
  • art of conversation
  • power of verbal communication
  • non-verbal cues
  • style of communication

Critical Communication Skills for Teens

In addition to interpersonal relationships, strong communication is critical in all aspects of school, such as in the classroom, the cafeteria, and any extracurricular activity. Through effective communication skills, high school students can achieve higher levels of success and become more successful in future endeavors.

Communication skills are often overlooked when it comes to social and emotional learning. Many teachers believe that students automatically know how to communicate when in reality, this is the least understood skill in the classroom. Communication skills are vital in life, yet many students still lack these skills. Learning how to communicate is a skill that students can apply to all aspects of life. 

Teens’ Daily Communication Skills

Communication skills fall into various categories but are typically broken down into Verbal, Non-Verbal, and Interpersonal communication. High school social life relies primarily on verbal communication and effective negotiation skills. Students will use these skills almost daily in small groups, or with their electronic devices on social media, text message, or video chat to navigate their social world.

The following examples are some of the interactions that are part of the everyday life of a young person:

  • Negotiating time and availability while planning a social or family gathering;
  • Advising a friend on an important decision;
  • Supporting a teammate in a game;
  • Choosing appropriate attire for a party; and
  • how to effectively communicate with admissions officers for internships, universities, and colleges.

Styles of Communication

People communicate in different ways, depending on their personality and the situation. Therefore, students must become aware of the various communication styles and how to use them effectively. There are four main types of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Understanding each one is essential, so they communicate effectively with others.

Passive Communication Style

Passive communicators are often perceived as being indifferent and yielding to others. As a result, they typically fail to express their feelings or needs, instead allowing others to express themselves. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflict in relationships.

Aggressive Communication Style

When it comes to communication, people who use the aggressive communication style often use a loud and demanding voice. They also maintain intense eye contact and may try to dominate or control others by blaming them, criticizing them, or even threatening or attacking them. These are just some of the traits that aggressive communicators tend to display.

Passive-Aggressive Communication Style

People who use the passive-aggressive communication style tend to bottle up their feelings of resentment instead of openly expressing them. Feeling powerless or stuck in a situation, people who use this communication style will not show how they are feeling on the surface. Passive-aggressive communication is a way of acting that can build up resentment over time.

Assertive Communication Style

The communication style that is most effective in getting what you want is the assertive communication style. Assertive communication involves:

  • Speaking in a clear and confident voice.
  • Making eye contact.
  • Using body language that is open and relaxed.

When communicating with others, it is essential to be respectful and avoid being too aggressive or passive.

Lesson Plan

The activities in this lesson plan are designed to assist students in exploring the aspects of self-concept. The purpose of this lesson is to provide students with opportunities to explore their strengths. They will also apply the concepts and skills presented in this lesson to enhance positive self-concept in themselves and others.

Students will focus on:

  • how self-concept develops 
  • characteristics of self-concept
  • the conditions required to change self-concepts

Through the lesson activities, students will examine how they communicate in different situations. They will also be able to describe how their self-concept has developed.

Teaching Strategy

There are many different ways teachers can use the lesson content provided here to teach teens communication. For example, creating discussions about each topic area helps students develop a deeper understanding of the meaning of self-concept and how it influences communication in their lives. In addition, by engaging in these discussions, students will better understand themselves and how they communicate with others.

Bridge-In 

This video discusses how most people develop their self-concept. In addition, this video is used to stimulate small group discussions about how self-concept develops.

How to Know Yourself- The School of Life

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will be able to: 

  1. Describe public and private selves.
  2. Describe how the self-concept develops.
  3. Describe the differences between communicators with high and low self-esteem.
  4. Explain how diversity, culture, and gender influence how we view ourselves.

Self-Esteem and Communication

Self-esteem influences communication through our own beliefs about ourselves and others. The differences between communicators with high and low self-esteem are:

  • For those with low self-esteem, communication is influenced by the beliefs that shape their self-concept. For example, if a person believes that others will reject him, he may set the stage for rejection by others through his actions and statements when in a social situation. If the result is that he becomes rejected, this reinforces his beliefs about himself about rejection and reinforces his self-concept of low self-esteem.
  • For those with high self-esteem, communication remains influenced by the beliefs that shape their self-concept. In this example, a person believes that he will be accepted by others and therefore sets the stage for acceptance with demonstrated confidence in understanding and articulating perceived accepting actions and statements when in a social situation. If the result is that he becomes accepted, this reinforces his beliefs about himself as being a person who is accepted and reinforces his self-concept of high self-esteem.

Two Truths about Self-Esteem

  1. Self-esteem consists of the conceptual beliefs we hold about ourselves in relationships. 
  2. Self-esteem relies on feedback from others to shape how we behave toward others.

This understanding of self-esteem, combined with lesson activities, will guide students as they enter an exploration of their self-concept.

How Self-Concept Develops

The development of self-concept begins at birth. We learn about communication through interactions with parents, caregivers, teachers, peers, and the media. Much of what we learn is beneficial, but some is not.

Our self-concept is constantly shaped and influenced by the people around us and our experiences and interactions with the world. Our self-concept dictates how we see ourselves and how we communicate with others. Therefore, it is vital to have a positive self-concept to lead a happy and successful life.

Changing Self-Concept

Each of us grows up with many internal messages learned from our families and cultures. The messages we received about communication were either direct, through verbal commands, or indirect, through nuances. Because of this truth, to effectively learn about effective interpersonal relationships and communication, we must go through an unlearning process.

Unlearning requires us to evaluate, through self-assessment, our current methods, patterns, beliefs, and values about interpersonal communication and relationships and then decide that we see room for including new learning about effective communication.

It is possible to break free from the conditioning and expectations of parents and society. By choosing our behavior and values more consciously, we can align ourselves with what is best within us. This brings greater fulfillment and satisfaction in life.

However, it is essential to begin our journeys of self-reflection to establish, or possibly create, our self-concept conditioning based on our personal and intimate experiences.

The Influence of Diversity, Culture, and Gender on Self-Concept

Diversity, culture, and gender influence how we view ourselves. The many messages we receive in our interactions with others and the media influence how our self-concept is shaped. Three key elements of influence include diversity, culture, and gender.

Diversity and Self-Concept

Diversity is what makes us different from others. We may be diverse in ethnicity, interests, beliefs, values, and personal tastes. How we manage the diversity among us is what helps to shape our interpersonal relationships and communication.

Diversity is a natural phenomenon in our world. Accepting and understanding this global truth enables us to redefine our self-concept with the acceptance and acknowledgment of what sets us apart and brings us together.

Culture and Self- Concept

Culture shapes our self-concept by providing us with a familiar place in the world to share with people like ourselves. We are members of the same social group with similar values and beliefs. Our culture provides the foundation of how we respond to situations and accordingly informs our concept of self.

Culture may be defined by ethnicity, and often, the two are seen as one. However, for this lesson, culture is seen as separate from ethnicity, allowing the definition to include social norms that you may find outside your particular ethnicity. For example, our families and their members share a unique culture. The food we eat, how we address each other, the acceptable and unacceptable social norms, and the language we use all shape the culture we share.

When outside of our family, like at school or with peer groups, the language we use, how we address each other, the acceptable and unacceptable social norms, and how we engage together in our school activities all shape the culture we share in that particular environment.

Culture influences our self-concept and how we engage in interpersonal relationships and communication. For this lesson, it is essential to recognize the cultural aspects of our communication.

Gender and Self-Concept

Gender influences our interpersonal relationships from the time we are born. How people relate to us is dependent upon our gender. Social norms, values, and culture are all influenced by our gender and ultimately affect the expectations of ourselves and others when communicating.

Terms and Meanings

Students will use the following terms throughout the lesson activities:

Myth of Perfection

Perfectionists are often overachievers. They set high standards for themselves and strive to meet them. However, sometimes this leads to underperformance in other areas of life. On the other hand, flexible thinkers are more successful, happier, and more balanced. They can adapt to different situations and don’t put as much pressure on themselves to succeed.

Reflected Appraisal

The looking-glass self is the idea that we see ourselves through the eyes of others. Our self-image is based on how we think others perceive us. If we believe that others see us in a positive light, our self-esteem will be high. But our self-esteem will suffer if we think that others see us negatively.

Distorted Feedback

A common cause of poor self-image is receiving distorted feedback from others. If the feedback you receive is overly critical, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth. On the other hand, if the feedback is excessively positive, it can create unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement. Therefore, to have a healthy sense of self, taking accurate information about how others see you is crucial.

Social Expectation

Social expectations are the unspoken rules that dictate how we should behave in society. They guide our beliefs and actions, shaping us into people others expect us to be. These expectations vary depending on culture, religion, age, and social class, making them unique to each individual and group.

Social Comparison

When we compare ourselves to others, we evaluate our worth. This is called social comparison. For example, we might compare our behavior, opinions, status, or success to see how we measure up. Doing this gives us a better idea of who we are.

Ego Booster

The ego can be a real problem. It can often disguise itself as your self-esteem, and it is crucial to become aware of this behavior when it arises. Ego boosters are when people give us praise, making us feel better about ourselves or raising our morale. Therefore, we must have healthy ego boosters in our lives to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem.

Ego Buster

An ego buster is the opposite of an ego booster. Ego busters bring us down and make us feel bad about ourselves. 

Public Self

The public self is an individual’s presentation of themselves to others. This can be seen in how they act, what they say about themselves, their physical appearance, and how they interact with others. The public self may vary depending on the situation or the people involved.

Private Self

The private self is the part of ourselves that we keep hidden from the world. It includes our innermost thoughts and feelings, as well as our sense of who we are.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a person’s expectations about another person or group leads to the expected behavior. This is also known as the interpersonal expectancy effect. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a very interesting phenomenon. It is a situation where our expectations influence the outcome of events. This can be both positive and negative. For example, if we expect someone to be friendly, we may act in a way that makes them more likely to be friendly back. Alternatively, if we expect something bad to happen, it probably will. This is because our expectations influence our actions and communication, which in turn influence the actions of others.

Activity 1: Tree of Life

Just as a tree is a living being, so are we. This exercise uses the symbol of a tree to assist you in looking further at who you are.

Roots

These represent your foundation. You may consider elements such as the family from which you came, significant personal experiences, the development of your values and beliefs, and the influences that have shaped you into the person you now are.

Trunk

This represents the stability of your life. It may include school, work, family, your home, and organizations or communities to which you belong.

Leaves 

These represent the ways in which you obtain meaningful information or learn in formal and informal ways. Formal ways are at school in classes. Informal ways or from watching movies, reading books, or with peer groups. 

Fruits

These represent the achievements you have made so far.

Buds

These represent your hopes, goals, aspirations, and dreams for the future.

In a way that you determine appropriate, each of these parts of the tree must demonstrate these elements of your personal being.

For example, on each piece of fruit, you may choose to write a brief sentence describing an achievement. If you determine that you have twenty achievements, you would then have twenty pieces of fruit placed on your tree. Feel free to add the detail that you wish, remembering that you are not required to disclose any information that makes you uncomfortable.

Directions

When creating your tree, you may use a digital drawing tool, or create your tree on paper or canvas. The poster size is a good size to create your tree.

In addition to creating your tree, you are asked to write a brief summary explaining the key elements of your tree. You may ask yourself questions such as “Why did I choose to create my tree as I did?” and “What do the different parts of the tree mean to me?”

Activity 2: Ego Boosters and Busters

This activity is designed to unpack the development of self-concept.

Directions

In the appropriate spaces below, describe the actions of several “ego boosters” – significant others who shaped your self-concept in a positive way. Also, describe the behavior of “ego busters” who contributed to a more negative self-concept.

Next, recall several incidents in which you behaved as an ego booster or buster to others. Not all ego boosters and busters are obvious. Include in your description several incidents in which the messages were subtle or nonverbal.

Summarize the lessons you have learned from this experience questions at the end of this exercise.

Ego Booster Messages You have Received

I perceive(d) __________   (other pereson) as telling me I am/was concept element) when he/she __________.

I perceive(d) __________  (other person) as telling me I am/was concept element) when he/she __________.

I perceive(d) __________  (other person) as telling me I am/was concept element) when he/she __________.

Ego Buster Messages You have Received

I perceive(d) __________  (other person) as telling me I am/was __________ (self-concept element) __________ when he/she __________.

I perceive(d) __________  (other person) as telling me I am/was __________  (self- concept element) when he/she __________.

I perceive(d) __________  (other person) as telling me I am/was _________  (self concept element) when he/she__________.

Ego Booster Messages You Have Sent

I was a booster to __________ when I __________.

I was a booster to __________ when I __________.

I was a booster to __________ when I __________. 

I was a booster to _________  when I __________.

I was a booster to __________  when I __________.

I was a booster to _________  when I __________.

Conclusions

  1. Who are the people who have most influenced your self-concept in the past?
  2. What messages did each one send to influence you so strongly?
  3. What people are the greatest influences on your self-concept now? Is each person a positive or a negative influence? What messages does each one send to influence your self-concept?
  4. Who are the people whom you perceive to have influenced most greatly? What messages have you sent to each one about his or her self-concept? How have you sent these messages?
  5. What ego booster or buster messages do you want to send to the important people in your life? How can you send each one?

Activity 3: Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

This activity is designed for students to uncover their self-fulfilling prophecies.

Directions

Identify three communication-related, self-fulfilling prophecies you impose on yourself. For each, identify the example, describe the prediction you make, and show how this prediction influences either your behavior or that of others.

Next, identify two communication-related, self-fulfilling prophecies others have imposed on you, both negative and positive. For each, show how the other person’s prediction affected your behavior.

Prophecies You Impose on Yourself

Example PredictionOutcome

Write a summary of how your prediction affected the outcome for each example provided.

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

Prophecies Others Impose on You

Example PredictionOutcome

Write a summary of how your prediction affected the outcome for each example provided.

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

Activity 4: Discussion (Private vs. Public Self)

This activity is designed for students to examine their private and public selves. 

Directions

Actors provide an excellent example of the differences between private and public selves. Watch the following video and discuss the questions and terms in small groups.

  1. What are three examples of how each actor presented their public self?
  2. What are three examples of how each actor presented their private selves?
  3. What was different?
  4. Make assumptions and relate how self-esteem, the myth of perfection, reflected appraisal and distorted feedback, obsolete information, social expectations or social comparison influence the actors’ operation of their private and public selves. 

Summary

In this lesson, we discovered how self-concept affects communication.

This lesson provides opportunities for students to examine different parts of themselves, their support systems, and linkages that have helped to shape their self-concept. They also explore how their self-concept influences their communication style. 

In the next lesson, we will examine how our unique view of the world affects communication.

References

Adler, R. B., Rolls, J. A., & Proctor, R. F. (2020). LOOK : looking out, looking in. Nelson Education.

Education Policy Institute. (2021, January). Young people’s mental and emotional health: Trajectories and drivers in childhood and adolescence https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/EPI-PT_Young-people%E2%80%99s-wellbeing_Jan2021.pdf

TACT (Teens and Conflict Together): A Facilitator’s Guide for Empowering Youth to Engage in Creative Problem Solving: Petryshyn, MA., Chartered Mediator, Suzanne: 9781451516593: Books – Amazon.ca. (2022). Amazon.ca.

TACT (Teens and Conflict Together)

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How to Teach Teens Valuable Communication Skills

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If you are an educator, parent, or grandparent and looking for practical strategies to use with children, concepts to understand, and ideas that can be easily implemented about how to create space for self and others, you have landed in the right spot.

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