It takes a long time to grow an old friend. (John Leonard)
We all want our teen to have friends, but can we be too involved? Can we be trying too hard to manage our teen’s friendships and who they are friends with? Here are a few thoughts on teen friendship and how we as parents can support our teens and the friends that they decide upon.
Avoid applying pressure or probing. Pressuring our teens about their friendships or asking probing questions may be perceived as intrusive and, well, micromanaging who they are friends with. Your teen will also shut down and not talk to you about their friends. This is the opposite of what we want as a parent. We want our teen to talk to us if they are struggling with a friendship, to help our teen discover what their values are and what makes a good friend.
Bring teens together. Welcome your teen’s friends into your home. It is a great way to get to know the group of friends and also to help provide mentoring to your teen when they ask for help. It is beneficial to know the whole group when your teen is asking for advice about the friend group. Help your teen see their friends independently by dropping them at the mall or a skate park.
Don’t criticize friends you don’t like. If your child has a friend you don’t approve of, keep it to yourself unless the peer poses an actual danger. I know as a parent we may see things or have concerns about a friend, but if you remain nonjudgmental, your teen is more likely to reach out to you if things start to go wrong in the friendship.
Focus on quality, not quantity. The experience of closeness is what matters, so having even one good friend is enough. But some teens might not want a close buddy, and that’s okay, too. Don’t force your teen into social activities. Teens need one person or peer that they feel connected to in some way. That’s important and helpful for their development. Not every teen is going to be the social butterfly, and be okay with that. Make sure what your teen choses is okay with them. If they feel left out or lost, a bigger conversation is needed and perhaps professional intervention.
Be open to all varieties of friendship. Although social media can be harmful to teens when there is bullying or negative comparisons, gaming and other forms of online socializing can also build solid bonds, especially for kids who are anxious or have trouble making friends at school. Teens are growing up with social media and technology, and it is a significant part of their lives. If you are concerned that your teen is on social media or gaming too much, open up a conversation. Decide together if those relationships are beneficial or harmful and discuss together how to create balance between social media and in person friends.
The teen years are when people begin figuring out who they are and how to become independent from their families, so friendships formed during these years have special resonance. As a parent, be present, act as a mentor, a role model and the coach that will help your teen to navigate the teen friendship years.
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