Social Intelligence: Teaching Social Skills to Teens and Kids

In the 1920’s Edward Thorndike wrote about multiple intelligences. One particular intelligence was called “Interpersonal Intelligence” also known as social intelligence. I have also written about this phenomenon as Social Literacy. Daniel Goleman has spearheaded much of the social intelligence research and application in his book “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Social Relationships.”

What Is Social Intelligence?

Social Intelligence (also Social Literacy) is a person’s ability to interact, maintain and build relationships with others.


Why Is Social Intelligence Important?

Teaching social literacy involves developing and identifying communication and social skills, as well as showing how to effectively and purposefully mediate interactions with family members, friends and colleagues in the personal or business environment. Social literacy is important on a number of different levels. First, as we become more and more technologically savvy, we interact with each other less and less. Social literacy helps prevent against bullying as young people learn to express themselves correctly, handle friendship miscommunications and interact in person, not just through their devices. Second, social literacy can help with family communication in the home. Teaching family members how to read their each other and ask for what they need can bring harmony into the home. Lastly, as young people enter adulthood, social literacy becomes essential in job interviews, in adult relationships and in almost every career.

Social Intelligence for Teens and Kids

Children are spending less time with their parents and their peers. Instead, they interact through text, email, chat or social networks. Because of this, we must begin to teach our children how to have social intelligence and social skills.

One of my most popular talks for parents and students is emotional and social intelligence. Here are the principles I teach, so you can talk about them in your home or classroom. These are concepts I have pulled together from a variety of the best resources on Social Intelligence and then specialized them for families, parents, teachers, teens and kids.

  • Mindsight: Recognizing our own internal feelings and perspective. This is also called self-talk. Mindsight helps a person understand how they feel in a certain situation or on a particular issue.
  • Perceiving Emotions: This is the ability to detect and decipher emotions of others in social situations through facial expressions, pictures, voices, and cultural symbols.
  • Relationship Management: This is the ability to inspire, influence, and interact with others. This is an essential part of social intelligence for parents and teens. For teens, in incidents with bullying or issues with parents, they have to be able to effectively handle problems without creating conflict. Parents also have to successfully approach and navigate with surly or overly-dramatic teens using social intelligence skills.
  • Confrontation-management: Once a parent, teen or teacher is in conflict, social skills involve being able to control or make proper decisions based on their mindsight or perceived emotions. With strong social skills, one has the ability to use intuition or gut feelings to guide decisions. For teens especially, it involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances of their environment.
  • Connectedness Gauge: We have social relationships in part to feel connected to others. Some need this more than others. Being able to properly gauge how much connection one needs to feel content, or who and how to have that deep social connection is a social skill that many teens have yet to figure out.

When teaching social skills to middle school or high school students, you want to explain each area of social intelligence. Then you can discuss examples of each area to help teens or kids identify when this happens in their own life. Luckily, social intelligence is absolutely a skill that can be taught. However, social skills, even more than emotional intelligence is more in jeopardy because of the increasing use of technology to engage in social interactions. Adults should let children explore their connectedness gauge and if it is the same for a chat online or a conversation in person. As you discuss social literacy with your family or students, apply it on a day to day basis so they can work on the areas they need most help in. Often times, as soon as they are aware that ‘social skills’ are a part of being ‘intelligent’ they are excited and enticed to learn more about themselves and how they interact with those around them.

This is part of EmoSocial Intelligence series. If you would like to read more articles on how to read and build nonverbal communication skills in your family or with your child, please visit our EmoSocial Intelligence page for tips and updated research.


Social Intelligence, John Kihlstrom and Nancy Cantor, in R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of intelligence, 2nd ed. (pp. 359–379). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Goleman, Daniel. Social Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (2006) Bantam Books.

Thorndike, E. L. (1920). “Intelligence and its uses”. Harper’s Magazine 140: 227–235.

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3 Responses to “Social Intelligence: Teaching Social Skills to Teens and Kids”

  1. Xander
    January 6, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    Great work once again Vanessa! After years of managing professional adults, I agree that it is critical to monitor the Emotional Intelligence of our pre-teens and teens.

    Your tie in to cyber bullying is right on!

    Teen Emotional Intelligence is critical for success, and success in cyber space looks very different for our children than it did for today’s parents. Cyberbullying, specifically, preys on the fears and self-esteem concerns found inside many school forums.

    Following a path of Social Intelligence training in the home creates the open dialog needed for parents and children to properly defend against online predators.

  2. Julia
    February 4, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    This society as a while is beyond salvation, the level of intelligence is constantly going down, and this world is getting more and more screwed. People are starting to let technology do their thinking for them, and that’s all that they’re relying on now.


  1. Social Intelligence: Teaching Social Skills to Teens and Kids | Moms & Baby - January 6, 2011

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