Teaching Boys to Communicate Like Boys (aka not sounding like you walked out of a social skills group)

Josh, a 6-year-old goes up to a group of boys playing in his classroom and says, “May I join you?”
Tyler, a 13-year-old gives a boy in his grade a compliment about his clothing.  The boy becomes verbally aggressive towards Tyler because he feels embarrassed.
Eric, a 15-year-old meets another 15-year-old boy and starts the conversation by asking “What are your hobbies?”
Frank, a 12-year-old greets another boy in his class by saying “Hi Mike how are you doing today?”

What’s the problem with these scenarios?

This is not how boys communicate with each other, yet this is what boys are being taught in social skills groups.
In most social skills groups boy learn:

  • overly formal etiquette that is not appropriate for their age or gender
  • to disregard the “hidden rules” in male-male communication
  • how to sound like adult women rather that sounding like their similar-age peers

Most importantly, they’re not learning how to be relatable to other boys
What compounds the problem with how social skills are being taught:

  • most social skills instruction is teaching scripted, socially appropriate behaviors or uses behavior modification to elicit socially acceptance responses. There is no emphasis on teaching relatability to similar-age peers.
  • Social Thinking® terminology and characters are being taught without teaching foundational Social Thinking concepts.
  • kids are grouped together by age, regardless of their social learning needs or cognitive ability.
  • there are no standards or criteria for what qualifies someone to teach social skills.  Anyone can run a social skills group.
  • parents don’t know what questions to ask social skills providers.

What led to my interest about this topic:

  • many boys and young men I’ve worked with attended social skills group, often for years where they were taught to initiate conversation and communicate in ways that were not organic to the way boys/young men communicate with each other.
  • they were taught how to sound appropriate engaging in conversations with adults however they sound awkward and unrelatable to their similar-age male peers.
  • I found that no boys were ever taught what being relatable to their similar-age peers looks like.
  • the realization that the vast majority of people who teach social skills to boys and young men are women who understandably never experienced being part of a male peer group.

To be relatable to their similar-age peers, boys with social learning challenges need to be taught:

  • how boys relate to each other with their language and how they show affection for each other
  • understand the hidden rules of male-male social communication
  • be able to discern between well-intentioned teasing and actual bullying.

Being relatable is what helps others feel comfortable around us and what makes us endearing to others which in turn helps increase one’s ability to be employable.    Acquiring “social skills” aren’t very helpful if you’re not employable to others because they don’t feel comfortable around you.
What I teach during individual sessions and in small groups:

  • The hidden rules and nuances in male-male social communication
  • How to use your language to be relatable to other boys
  • Understanding when other boys are showing an interest in being friends with you
  • How to age-appropriately show other boys that you want to be friends
  • How to adjust one’s social communication based on whom you’re communicating with
  • Understanding what constitutes natural sound social communication between boys and what causes you to sound like you walked out of a social skills group.

Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW is the Director of Ride the Wave Counseling in Bryn Mawr, PA and Linwood, NJ.  Learn more at: www.ridethewavecounseling.com
Social Thinking was created by world renowned expert Michelle Garcia Winner.  Learn more at: www.socialthinking.com


2 thoughts on “Teaching Boys to Communicate Like Boys (aka not sounding like you walked out of a social skills group)

  1. This middle-aged mother of 3 sons and an SLP who runs social communication groups at her practice, Communiverse, applauds you for this article and for your work, Ryan.

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