Friendship isn’t a big thing – it is a million little things (Paulo Coelho)
The teenage years can be a tumultuous time, and to make sure teens stay focused, the adults in their lives often push them toward things that seem to “create” success such as doing well in school, helping around the house, participating in sports, or community service. But what adults tend to forget is the value of close teen friendships, and how important they are to their teen.
The main thing I have learned from listening to teenagers is that they want deep, intimate connections with other people, especially their peer group. However, as parents we forget the value of friendship and our teens run up against a culture of parenting telling them what is important. We want our teen to focus on good grades, SAT scores, creating a college application that is, well, in our mind…perfect. The academic effort is part of being a teenager but as a parent we can not push aside the need for teen friendship and the skills teen friendships help your teen to acquire and gain confidence in. I am not advocating all night gaming sessions before a big test, or trips to the mall instead of studying. I do believe that there needs to be a balance and as a parent we must help our teen to find the balance in their world. So let’s talk teen friendship.
As parents we may be wary of peers who could steer your teen toward risky behaviors which can lead to trouble. However, having a conversation focused on values, responsibility and your belief in your teen to make great choices goes a long way. I believe as a parent we need to meet our teen’s friends, be supportive but also share concerns and discuss the concerns in relation to family values and expectations. Teens listen when you share thoughts for them to think about, process and incorporate into who they are becoming.
On the other side, positive peer influences can be equally powerful. Teenagers who develop supportive, trusting friendships with others their age are happier. We all want to belong to a group and teens are searching for the group that they belong to. Unlike the interactions teens have with adults, which come with established expectations, peer bonds have more fluidity, offering opportunities to try out new things. Such new things as clothing, vocabulary, behavior and how the group responds will encourage or discourage this new trait in the teen. All of that is okay and part of growing up. An example of the positive peer experience is that teen’s push each other in a good way. A teen may be reluctant to try out for the sports team but their peer group encourages them to try out and they make the team. Or the friend group is getting together to study and your teen who would normally not do that, is all of a sudden going to a study group for a class. Embrace the positive role teen friendship can bring.
Last teens give each other feedback with a blunt honesty that parents might not get away with, whether it’s, “You need to use deodorant,”, “Let’s compromise.” or “Do the math problem this way!” It is often hearing from their peer group that your teen will change their behavior. A teen that has a “temper tantrum” for not getting their own way in their friend group will be called out, as will a friend who is creating “drama”. Teen friendship is important for teens to develop a sense of self and to build their own self-confidence, self-worth and identity.
A great resource for your teen is our book on Teen Friendship available on Amazon, “One Friend? Two Friends? Good Friend? Bad Friend?”