The Importance of a Community for Teenagers
For parents, the teenage years can be rough. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. While it may seem like it takes a village to raise a child, many forget that it also takes a community to raise a teenager. The importance of a community can be paramount for a child, especially when they enter their teenage years. While a community can be based solely on your geographical location, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, the word “community” has two different definitions.
- Community can be defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common;”
- “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
While you can get involved in your community through your neighbors, your kid’s school, your city, or even within your state, you and your teen can also find community in shared values. Your family may find a strong sense of community at your church, while playing on a sports team, or even through online platforms.
In fact, many adolescents find a community of their own with peers who share their interests (such as video games, makeup, art, or other activities). Overall, community is characterized by a group of people that care about each other and feel that they belong together. A group can help provide a sense of belonging, mutual support, greater influence, and exploration for young teens.
The Benefits of Community
Here are just a few of the many benefits of establishing a sense of community for your teen:
Community Meets Social Needs
If you haven’t noticed already, your teenager’s friends are some of the most important people in their life. In fact, many teens prioritize friendships over any other relationship. While this may be frustrating at times, it is actually a completely normal stage of healthy child development.
Your child is learning to differentiate from you, his siblings, and family of origin, in order to develop his or her own identity and sense of self. This does not mean that they do not love you or appreciate you. As parents, you have the opportunity to be the most stable person in the life of your youth. This role is so critical for your child’s emotional intelligence and development.
On the other hand, a healthy community can help to develop your child’s socialization skills. Hopefully, the peers in your child’s community are encouraging and create a positive impact. If not, it may be time to make some changes.
Community Meets Practical Needs
In some cases, parents can even depend on their teen’s social group and peers as well. Whether you need a trusted parent to pick up your child from soccer practice or give you an extra hand after school, parent’s can also benefit from these opportunities.
Community Meets Emotional Needs
It is critical that your teen learns transparency, vulnerability, emotional maturity, trust, and emotional regulation. As parents in a close community, we have a responsibility to support each other, in good times and in bad. As much as we need to be available within our community for others, we also need to have the courage to ask and reach out when we’re the ones in need of support.
Overall, it’s important for children to see their parents involved in a community. Your teenager can learn this by watching you and then interacting themselves when they’re old enough. Teenagers can also learn a lot about compassion when they are a part of a strong community.
Community Protects Against Selfishness
Many parents say that their kids seem to be selfish or reserved as they enter adolescence. Fortunately, being a part of a solid community serves as a safeguard against this. Community opens our eyes to the needs of other people around us. A community can help bring your teen out this behavior by giving them both the responsibility and opportunity to look outward.
One way to provide your child with new opportunities that can make a positive impact is to get them involved in service work. Doing a community service project together is always a great way to demonstrate the importance of belonging. Research has shown that involving teens in community service benefits both themselves and those they serve. Two aspects of the effectiveness of teen volunteers are the overall development for the young person and the support that he or she will find through further involvement in the community.
Community Teaches Conflict Resolution
If you bring any group of people together, conflict is inevitable. Fortunately, being immersed in a healthy community can teach your teenager effective conflict resolution and decision-making skills.
Community Provides the Opportunity to Forgive
Similarly, a support group gives your teenager the chance to learn how to forgive. In order to maintain healthy relationships with others, both parties must be able to practice forgiveness. Learning how to forgive, rebuild trust, and move forward is imperative to becoming a well-rounded individual later on in life.
Community Challenges Us
Our social group tends to challenge us and can help push our teens out of their comfort zones. A strong community should challenge your kid to become a better person. Whether they need a new outlook on life, a new skill or hobby, or a support team to help them through hard times, community can help.
Community Can Support You as a Parent
As parents, we often forget that we need support as well. The parents of our child’s friends or other adults in our community can help provide encouragement, support, advice, and help. Often, the people in our child’s community can help support our parenting decisions as well.
Teens are more likely to take advice and correction from an adult other than their parents. Help your teenager find a positive adult mentor, or develop relationships with other caring adults in their lives. This can help bridge communication gaps and help build your teenager’s life skills.
Community Shifts Our Perspective
On the other hand, being a part of a strong community can help shift our perspective of our teens or even our own parenting practices. Even as adults, we should be constantly growing and learning. For our teens, being apart of a community can also help them shift their perspective as well.
Signs of a Healthy Community
While a strong, solid community can provide tremendous benefits for you and your teenager, it is important to acknowledge that not all communities are created equal. It is important to ask these ten questions in regards to any community that your teenager becomes a part of:
- Is it healthy?
- Is this community helping (free of peer pressure) my teenager or our family?
- Is the community authentic and genuine?
- Do the members support one another and hold each other accountable?
- Do they feel like they truly belong?
- Does this community have a level of diversity, and is it inclusive to those who are not “like them”?
- Is this community outward-focused?
- In general, do we share this community’s values?
- Does your teenager WANT to belong to this community?
- Do I or my teenager have the power to make the community healthy or invoke positive change?
If the answer is yes to most of these questions, your teenager is most likely a part of a healthy community that is meeting their needs. However, if you answered no to one or more of these questions, it may be time to reevaluate your teenager’s ties to the community they have become a part of.
How to Help Your Teen Build Healthy Community Ties
Whether your teenager is a part of an unhealthy community or doesn’t have any community ties at all, helping them develop quality relationships can be tough. Here are a few things you can do to help your teen:
Build Their Confidence
While they may not openly talk about it with you, the teenage years can be the hardest. Your child is dealing with hormones, changing peer groups, and big life events, while sometimes struggling with low self-esteem. Unfortunately, this can cause them to isolate themselves and ignore the advice of their adult peers or role models.
As the parent, it is your job to talk to your child and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Whether that be by praising them for good grades or accomplishing something in school, find different ways that will help to build their confidence. If you as a parent can model this behavior yourself, your teenager can learn by example.
If you think you can help your teenager improve in any way, say something. As always, make sure it is coming from a place of patience and kindness. The more that you can empower your teen to develop positive behavioral and life skills, the more confident they will be when they are a part of a community on their own.
Model Conflict Resolution
According to prominent therapy models and practitioners, It is important to help your teen understand that conflict is a natural part of relationships. Even the best of friends are going to have fights, but not every argument means the end of a friendship or community. Help them work on “fighting fair” and recognizing when to take a break from an argument to cool off.
Particularly when it comes to social media, where misunderstandings are common and conflict can quickly get out of control, teach your teen the value of saying, “I think we’re both really upset. Let’s talk about this in person tomorrow.” The best way to do this is to model healthy conflict resolution yourself.
Your teenager is watching how you handle conflict with your spouse, partner, friends, coworkers, and especially how you address areas of conflict between you and your teen. When you show them that conflict is a regular part of life, and not something to fear or avoid, they will be more likely to engage in community and remain bonded to them even when faced with conflict.
Help Connect Them
Sometimes, your child needs guidance when making positive relationships in their school or social group. While this isn’t as simple as arranging playdates for them in toddlerhood, you can still help them find a community in their teenage years. Encouraging them to get involved in a sport, hobby, after-school club, or youth group can help tremendously when it’s time for them to build a community with like-minded people.
Another way to do this is to engage in community service as a family. When they serve others in their community, they will feel more invested in the group’s well-being and be more open to making connections with others (especially if it is a group service project).
Overall, helping your child build connections within a supportive community has tremendous benefits. The need for love and belonging are part of our basic needs as human beings. Building a sense of community provides support, guidance, and beneficial life skills for both you and your teen.
For more helpful resources on how to get involved in your community, contact our team at Children’s Bureau today.