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Does your teenager act immature? Parenting tips for helping immature teenagers with social maturity.

A parent writes, "Our middle school daughter seems out of step with her peer group. In the company of peers, she will sabotage her efforts by acting immature or offering comments that don't make sense. My husband and I think she is clueless and too hungry for attention. Any ideas on what we can do to help her become more socially mature?"

Immature Teenagers and Peer Problems

One of the most worrisome aspects of parenting is when our child has trouble navigating a comfortable place among peers. Due to wide developmental discrepancies in early adolescence, middle school presents a melting pot of maturity levels. Many kids embrace the entrance into the fascinating cultural and social world that sets them apart from adults, and makes them a part of teenage life. Those chronological peers that remind them of their earlier immature selves are likely to be ridiculed and/or rejected. Thus, the child who emotionally lags behind is placed in a puzzling position; how to fit into a social network with implicit rules and expectations that others understand and they don't?

To varying degrees, most of us remember the sting of peer rejection from our own childhoods, and the hurt and confusion it produced. This may make it hard for us to use objectivity in responding to the child who can't find a place within the middle school maze.

Parenting Tips for Teaching Social Maturity to Immature Teenagers

While many factors contribute to the problem, immaturity can be addressed and upgraded if parents come prepared with tact, sensitivity, and solid coaching advice. Here are some tips for helping immature teenagers with social maturity:

Don't be afraid to gently use the words " social immaturity" when describing the behavior. Peers may have already used far worse words such as "annoying, pathetic, obnoxious, or weird" so this label provides a way for your child to begin to understand what others are referring to. It also embodies a sense that these problems are time-limited, and that with help and determination these troubles can fade. Explain that social maturity is measured by how well a person fits into the actions and expectations of their peer group. Being socially immature, just like being short for their age, is not their fault. But unlike height, they can work on learning how to catch up.


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Test their capacity for observation and social learning. Once you've succeeded in establishing a safe dialogue see how much they recognize their immaturity. Try not to sound critical. Provide examples that you recall and praise them for their willingness to self-reflect. Review their encounters with peers and offer them ways to feel a greater sense of belonging. By becoming a better social observer and paying careful attention to more mature peers they can figure out how to move their maturity forward. Point out the advantages of being a good listener and the importance of not abruptly changing subjects. Stress how compliments, following up on details they have been told before, and thinking about what they should say before they say it are good rules of thumb. Emphasize how silly clowning often backfires.

Explain that certain "immaturity themes" are repeated in various situations. Now is the time to speak to them about "attention-seeking missions", the "never feeling satisfied syndrome," or some similar behavior theme that often pops out and makes peers shake their heads with disdain. Delineate the subtle and not-so-subtle ways these themes emerge, and challenge their view that peers don't notice these behaviors. Explain that kids their age not only notice them, they catalogue them, and spread news about such behaviors far and wide! Point out that the more these behaviors come out at home the more they are likely to at school or other times when peers are around.

Offer concrete ways for them to learn how to become more socially mature. Offer the pointers above but try to line up a respected older sibling or cousin, if available. If not, perhaps a guidance counselor can lend a hand. Even television programs may offer a forum to discuss behaviors and attitudes considered socially mature at their age. Emphasize that preparing themselves ahead of time to be with peers, and reviewing their past successes and failures, is a good habit to establish.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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