Encouraging collaboration in teens: Here's what to know

The ability to collaborate well with others is an important part of life and work.
Getty Images

The ability to collaborate well with others is an important part of life and work, and it contributes to a teen’s capacity to respect the perspectives of others, to solve problems creatively, and to resolve conflicts appropriately. Encouraging your teen to participate in cooperative activities like sports, clubs, arts, and music can be a good way to begin teaching them about collaboration. Make sure to find a balance between their activities, school work, and family time. Try not to overload them with too many activities, as this can lead to unnecessary stress.

Work on a home improvement project together. Painting your teen’s room, planting a vegetable garden, adding plants to a room, or redecorating the bathroom are some examples of projects you can work on together. You can let your teen lead the project, and ask them to choose the paint colors or room decor, or the types of vegetables or herbs they want to include in their garden. Your teen can also choose to assign responsibilities to other family members, but remind them that they must be fair when doling out roles. If the project becomes a source of stress for your teen, provide them with the help that they need. Once the project is complete, acknowledge their contributions and point out that without proper teamwork and cooperation this group effort would not have been possible. Working together on a project like this helps to teach your teen about the importance of cooperation and about the need for collaboration in all aspects of life.

Ask your teen to share their knowledge by teaching you how to play a video game or use a new social media platform. Teens often know all about the newest technologies and games. If you are looking to gain a new digital skill or simply learn more about your teen’s favorite video game, they may be a good teacher. If they show you how to play the video game, play a few rounds with them and notice how they act in competition. For example, they are certainly more skilled at the game, but being a good sport involves not always being focused on winning at all costs. If you notice them beating you and gloating rather than giving you a chance to play and learn more about the game, talk to them about the importance of good sportsmanship. You can also ask them to teach you how to use Twitter or Instagram, and if you’ve mastered those social media sites already, you can suggest that they teach you how to use new software with which your teen is familiar. If either of you becomes flustered during this experience, take a moment to step away and suggest that you continue the lesson some other time. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis says that asking your teen to teach something is a good way to gauge his communication skills, patience, and teamwork abilities. It’s also a great way to bond with your teen over their interests and build trust and confidence.

Teach your teen about the importance of healthy competition. During high school, many teens are in the process of applying for colleges, and they are trying to stand out from the crowd. Whether it’s getting the best grades, becoming the best athlete, or being a part of the popular crowd, teens are constantly finding themselves in competition with one another, which can lead to a great deal of stress and apprehension. Help your teen find ways they can cope with stress, like exercise or deep breathing. Explain to them that it’s not possible to be the best at everything, and that simply making an effort can go further than winning. Teens are often so concerned with meeting the goals that their parents place on them that they lose sight of the personal goals that are important to them, so try to keep your expectations realistic.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Judy Willis, Neurologist, Teacher, Author, International Lecturer, University of California, Santa Barbara; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist.