Are you teaching others how to become socially aware (thoughtfully assessing the social situation) or hoping for a social robot (someone who does what they are taught in social situations because it’s been drilled into them that it’s the “right” thing to do)?
It’s an important question and one that needs to be addressed as Social Skills Programs become more popular in school districts.
Teaching social awareness is teaching students about common social situations they may encounter (first dates, job interviews, angry customers, upset parents, etc) and how the other person is (probably) thinking in the situation. The student can then analyze their behavior/choices and decide on their own course of action.
Sometimes they make a choice that gets them what they want and sometimes they make a choice that does not. And that’s okay because no person does the correct social thing 100% of the time. Being socially aware means you can look at a situation, analyze it, and decide if you need to do something different. After a situation in which my students get the unintended result, I ask: Did you care about that (person/thing/activity)? If the answer is yes, I work with them to find a way to mend it or make a different choice next time. If the answer is no, we move on and let that situation/opportunity go.
This is different from teaching rote interactions or teaching students a social script they can fall back on if they get stuck. Teaching common interactions such as greetings and practicing situations through role-playing scripts can be useful tools when teaching skills. Just don’t forget to change the script and practice the situation in several different ways with several different outcomes. Otherwise, you may be creating a social robot.
I often have to reteach skills my students have previously learned because they’ve learned them in an almost robot type fashion. Please, and thank-you is said in every single social situation. Every-time a student walks into the room, they introduce themselves whether its the 1st time or 50th time they’ve met the person. Students are having meltdowns because the person they are having the social interaction with is not responding according to the script the student has been taught and the meltdown is causing an even bigger social situation.
Teaching social awareness is not teaching the student/person to change who they are to fit what the world expects – rather it’s teaching them to think about their social interactions and make their own decisions about how they want that social interaction to go.