My mom says that I need to put myself out there more and be more social, but I really struggle with, say, just going up to the other kids in a class or program and talking, or making friends. Any tips for being more social? -Anonymous
I myself have had a lot of trouble making friends, speaking out, and being social throughout my life. I’ve always been quite shy, and especially when I was younger, I worried that I’d never be able to make good friends. Now I’m seventeen, I have a small group of really close friends, and I have improved and continue to improve how social I can be with acquaintances. I opened with that, because I want to make sure you know that it is possible for you to make friends, be more social, and be open enough that you’ll experience things you’d never be able to experience otherwise! For some of us it does take a bit longer to get “good” at being social, but it is 100% possible, and worth the effort!
First off, are you in any clubs or extracurriculars? Those can be great opportunities to be around people who have similar interests to you. I find that the best clubs to join to make friends are the clubs that talking is inherent to. For example, dance classes don’t involve talking at all; they are completely about movement, so it might take a little extra courage to join a conversation if you joined a dance class or club. However, if you’d feel comfortable joining a club or class about activism, debate, or creative writing, you might find it a bit easier to open up to making friends! It still can be daunting to speak up, but in those types of clubs, everyone will be talking, sharing ideas, or reading their writing, so eventually it’s likely that you’ll feel comfortable enough to share something, too. And the more you verbally participate in the club, the more you might feel comfortable enough to engage in a conversation with the members before or after the club itself!
Another tip would be to consider your body language. I know that when I get nervous or closed off in a social situation, my body shows it. I subconsciously cross my arms and legs, and often keep my face averted from my peers. If there’s a chance that you do this too, which is a perfectly common and valid reaction to nervousness, I’d suggest trying your best to notice it, and try to open up your body language a bit more. If a potential friend notices that someone looks closed off, that potential friend will probably assume that the person doesn’t want to talk, and will likely try to give them some space. Even though the intentions are good on both sides, this will make it less likely for the closed off person to be included in a conversation. If you find yourself near a conversation but not included in it, something as simple as uncrossing your arms, making eye contact with your peers, and smiling along will let your peers know that you’re engaged and would like to talk to them! This might mean that someone will ask you a question in order to include you, but even the act of physically opening up will make you feel more comfortable, and maybe you’ll want to jump in on your own!
It’s also worthwhile to consider whether you feel more comfortable in bigger groups or smaller groups. Some people prefer to talk and socialize in bigger groups, since there are more people talking and it's easier to blend in a little until you feel comfortable enough to stand out. However, others enjoy socializing in small groups, since there are less people to potentially “judge” you, and it’s easier to get a word in! If you prefer bigger groups, the right setting to step out of your comfort zone might be at someone’s birthday party. In such a scenario, it’ll take some courage to approach a group that’s having a conversation, but once there’s an opening, taking that first big leap to throw your own thoughts out their will probably be all it takes to be a part of the conversation! If you prefer smaller groups, the big leap might be to approach a peer who isn’t talking to anyone, and strike up a conversation. That can seem scary, but it could start with something simple: asking what their name is, commenting on a book you see them reading, asking a question about a class you’re both in together, or asking if they’d like to see a movie with you sometime.
I fully understand how intimidating it can be to put yourself out there. It’s easy to feel that people are judging you, or that they won’t want to be your friend, but chances are, the person you’re approaching will be happy to talk to you and become friends! The first step is always the most difficult, but it is beyond worth it to take it. If you have any more specific questions, I’d love to talk further about my personal experiences, and perhaps more specific ways to put yourself out there. I hope something in my response was helpful to someone, and anyone is welcome to PM me if they'd like to chat privately about this topic!