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As children enter the teenage years, friends become increasingly important. Positive, accepting and supportive friendships help teens develop towards adulthood.
Why teen friendships are important
For teens, good friends can be like a personal support group. They can provide:
- a sense of belonging, a feeling of being valued and help with developing confidence
- a sense of security and comfort in being with others going through the same experiences
- a source of information about the changes that puberty brings, and what’s going on physically and emotionally
- a way to experiment with different values, roles, identities and ideas
- experience in getting along with people of different genders (friendships before the teenage years are often with people of the same gender)
- a chance to experience early romantic and sexual relationships
Helping your teen build friendship skills
Teens might be focused on their friends, but they still need your help and support to build and maintain positive and supportive friendships.
Good parent-child relationships tend to lead to positive relationships with peers. Being warm and supportive, staying connected and actively listening to your child can help with the development of friendship skills.
Being a good role model is important too. Parents who are keen to spend time with their own friends are more likely to have children with lots of healthy friendships. It’s also important for your child to see you looking out for your friends, and showing that friendship is a two-way thing.
Praising teens when you see them being fair, trusting and supportive of others encourages them to keep working on those positive social traits.
Helping teens who find it hard to make friends
All teens are different. Not all will be outgoing and socialise with a big group of friends. If your child is like this, but seems generally happy and content, there’s no need to do anything.
But if your child has trouble making friends and is worried by that, there are a few things you can do together:
- Think about your child’s interests and strengths. Based on this, you could look for new extracurricular activities for your child or encourage your child to join a club, sporting team or social group.
- Spend time with extended family and family friends. Plan a barbeque or outing where your child can spend time with people who already know him.
- Make sure your child feels comfortable inviting friends home and give her plenty of space when she does.
- Think about a part-time job. Working, particularly in a place with other young employees, can give your child a chance to practise social skills as well as building job skills for the future.
- Give your child lots of praise and encouragement to build self-esteem. Try not to pressure your child about friends or constantly discuss the situation.
Understanding the balance between friends and parents
As children become teens, they begin to spend more of their time alone and with friends.
This means that teens spend less time with their parents. Some parents worry that these friendships will take over and friends will become more important than family. But teens still need their parents! Be interested and available so that your child can turn to you when he needs to.
Teens share a lot with and copy a great deal from their friends. For example, teens might change their behaviour, appearance or interests to show that they belong to a certain group of friends.
These changes are usually just experimentation. As long as your child isn’t doing anything destructive or dangerous, this kind of behaviour can actually be a positive sign that your child feels supported and confident enough to try something new.
You teen may experience peer pressure, but not all peer pressure is negative.
What teen friendships look like
During the early teen years, friendships become more intense, close and supportive. And the amount that teens communicate with their friends increases.
Teen friendships tend to be based on personal similarity, acceptance and sharing. Relationships with friends of the same gender are the norm during high school. As they get older, though, many teenagers also make friends with people of different genders.
The internet also lets teenagers make friends in new ways. Many say that they have friends they only ‘see’ online. Friendships built through social networking are different from real-life relationships. In the best cases, they offer teenagers a chance to talk about sensitive issues without fear of being judged, and a chance to experiment with identity in a more or less anonymous way.
Tip: Positive friendships are an important part of the journey to adulthood. They help teenagers learn important social and emotional skills, such as being sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings and wellbeing.
Parents and friends play different roles in a teenager’s life. You influence your child’s long-term decisions about values and morals. Your child’s friends are more likely to influence short-term choices, such as appearance and interests. Strong relationships with both parents and friends help teenagers grow into well-adjusted adults with strong social skills.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
Resources & Links:
HealthLink BC: Tips for Parents of Teens