Instilling Soft Skills in Adolescents: All work and no play…

It is very common for today’s child to have little chance to simply be a child. Most children are busy with school, after-school activities, homework, extra classes for music, maths, etc. Odds are high that if you ask any schoolgoing child whether they enjoy going to school, you will get a resounding ‘NO!’.

The key is not to drown your child in academic-related activities. Try diversifying things a little. Instead of filling your child’s spare time with studies or study-related activities (tuition, extra classes, etc.), encourage him to join team sports such as football or basketball. Even a club/society that is not sports-oriented such as debate teams or uniformed societies (e.g. Kadet, Scouts, Red Crescent, St John’s Ambulance, etc.) give him plenty of opportunities to grow.

These clubs, societies, and sports are some of the best places for your child to learn about important things such as teamwork and decision-making. Working on projects or activities will also teach them the importance of working together toward a common goal. Another route that offers plenty of opportunities to beef up on their soft skills includes performing volunteer work or services.

Why are soft skills important?

Learning soft skills is a life-long process, and by starting as early as you can, you will help prepare your child to succeed in not just his academic life, but also in the workplace. It should come as no surprise that many adolescents experience difficulties during their transition from their academic life to their adult life at the workplace.

After all, many youths have never been exposed to the realities of working as an adult. Some of the little things that they need to learn about are the importance of being on time for work, meeting deadlines, informing their superiors if they cannot go to work due to an illness, and getting along with their fellow workers. By providing your child with the necessary soft skills, he will be able to thrive by adapting to changing circumstances. Additionally, he will also be more willing to learn from his experiences.

Important soft skills for adolescents

There are five important soft skills your child/adolescent requires:

  1. Teamwork: For your adolescent to thrive and function efficiently and appropriately in groups, he must be able to work together with other people. Incorporating group work into classroom activities where each teenager is responsible for a specific job or outcome helps to foster integrity. This includes the ability to accept constructive criticism and to be willing to face his faults or short-comings in order to improve. People who are unable to successfully collaborate in groups will find it challenging to succeed not just in college, but once they go out and work as well. After all, almost every job includes some level of interaction/collaboration with others!

    Tip: Help your adolescent develop the necessary skills by encouraging him to participate in activities where collaboration with others plays a large role, e.g. team sports/athletics or other uniformed societies. Even science clubs can be a great place to learn about collaboration, if they emphasise team-based projects or hold volunteer services/activities.

  2. Communication/interpersonal skills: The digital age may have made the world a smaller place, but it is also responsible for making the next generation more aloof. This often shows in face-to-face communications as they are less able to effectively carry on a conversation. Some even struggle with simple conversational tasks such as asking questions, active listening and maintaining eye contact.

    Tip: Make it a point to limit their use of digital gadgets. While social media has its uses, they can stifle a child/adolescent’s ability to socialise in face-to-face situations. A good rule is to have daily family time where digital gadgets are NOT welcome. This daily family time can be around the dining table, or even weekend excursions to spend more quality time with each other. Spend as much time as a family together – the only rule is to be sure that everyone puts their handphones, iPads, and other tech-toys away! You may even want to get your adolescent involved with speech or drama clubs or even societies such as Toastmasters, where he can build up his self-esteem and self-confidence via public speaking. Guide him to behave in a respectful and courteous manner to not only adults, but also his own peers on a daily basis. The same should also apply to online communication.

  3. Problem-solving: Adolescents will face a number of unexpected challenges in life and often do not receive any aid in overcoming them. Learning how to solve problems is a skill that will stand your adolescent in good stead, regardless of whether it is during his academic life or when he ventures into the workplace. He should be able to solve problems in creative ways or find solutions that are out-of-the-box.

    Tip: Rather than relying on rote learning alone, send him for experiential learning classes (or learning by doing). Debate clubs are also a great way to encourage his problem-solving abilities as he will need to deal with unfamiliar situations.

  4. Managing time/prioritising tasks: There is a rigid structure in place at schools, and by the time your adolescent leaves, he must be able to organise his own studies (at institutes of higher education) or his work (once he joins the workforce). Being able to complete all of his assignments, projects, or any related work in a timely manner is a critical skill that will ensure that he is able to not only manage his time, but also to prioritise and finish the more urgent tasks first.

    Tip: Instilling responsibility in teenagers can be very challenging. One of the best ways to develop this skill is simply by doing, so allow him to assume responsibility in several areas during school. This is especially important for his first interview, as employers usually prefer candidates who not only have good results, but are also active in extracurricular activities. For example, avoid a blanket punishment if your child/ adolescent submits his school work late. Instead ask him to explain why the work was not completed and what he will do to remedy the situation in the future. Make him take responsibility for his shortcomings and encourage him to work on improving his time management.

  5. Leadership: These skills are crucial in more ways than one. Not only should a good leader function well in a group, he should also be able to step up when necessary. The tricky thing about leadership is that it is actually a combination of soft skills. All the earlier soft skills are a necessary part of becoming a leader, so ensuring that your adolescent develops them will certainly ensure that he has a better chance to succeed in the adult world.

    Tip: Encourage him to be more active in extracurricular activities. While some of the best leadership training he can get will be from uniformed societies, there are many possibilities with the other clubs/societies. Even sports can afford him an opportunity to pick-up leadership skills, e.g. captain of the football team, president of the English society, etc..He should also be encouraged to carry out volunteer activities in the community.

An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.

Subscribe to our parenting newsletter.