Teaching Public vs. Private – Social Skills for Teens

By Brittany Lehane January 21, 2015

PrivateAs I’ve mentioned before, I have been running a group focusing on social skills and health with my high school students.   The idea began out of necessity because there was no health class suited for students with special needs. I worked with the Special Ed teachers, school psychologist, and parents to develop a modified curriculum.

One of the primary reasons for this class was to teach safety skills and promote independence around hygiene and daily living skills. Our topics include levels of relationships (what is a friend or acquaintance vs. a stranger), changes in puberty, and the difference between public and private.

Public vs. Private

We found that the concept of public and private was really difficult for our students to grasp.  We focused on how public and private are different, what types of locations are public and private, along with which behaviors should be public or private. These lessons match well with concepts taught in Social Thinking because both teach expected behaviors in different locations.  It’s helpful to use the language “expected” and “unexpected” because our students are familiar with those words and that style of teaching. We’ve observed our girls have a hard time refraining from talking about personal things in very public places such as work. We needed to teach that talking about that time of the month in front of your boss is not expected (and really inappropriate).

We also wanted to stress safety by teaching that your body is private and belongs to you. Then we taught what it means to have private parts of your body and that no one should touch you. From there we talked about the importance of keeping our bodies covered, especially the private parts when we are changing in a locker room. The locker room was the topic of discussion for a while because it is a public place but it is okay to change in there. We talked about what’s appropriate and not appropriate to do in a locker room.


This led us right into talking about hygiene at school. We talked about gym class and the importance of wearing deodorant. We talk about keeping personal items like tampons private, for example in a secret pocket in a purse or in a makeup bag. We always use pictures or real objects to help out students understand the discussions. When we talked about putting personal items in a private place we had the girls take out their bags or backpacks and find a place to keep them. 

Getting a Feel for What to Teach

The following is a pretest we used before we started our unit on public and private to see how much our students knew and what they needed to learn.   Feel free to use it as a guide to start lessons on this topic and change the questions as needed. (This was written for girls because I teach an all girls group).        

Public vs. Private

Circle which of the following things should be done in private

  • Ask where the restroom is
  • Tell someone that you need a tampon
  • Eat an ice cream cone
  • Change your pad
  • Put deodorant on
  • Watch a movie with kissing in it
  • Share information about changes to your body
  • Buy pads at the grocery store
  • Wear a bikini at a pool
  • Ask questions about wearing a bra

Hopefully this is helpful to anyone working on these social skills! Sign up for our mailing list here to stay updated with our latest therapy tips, app announcements, and blog posts.  Don’t forget to follow us on TwitterPinterest, and like us on Facebook!

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Carrie Minault says

I am interested in tips to help teach students what is private business (family business) versus information that can be shared. Sometimes kids default to under sharing and think everything that happens at home is ‘family buiness.’For example, we were talking about siblings one day and a student didn’t want to ask another student if she had siblings citing ‘family business.’

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