How to Talk to Your Teen About Friendship

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Having friends and making new friendships is an important part of preteen and teen development. Platonic teen relationships can run the gamut of very close and intense to very casual. Some teen friendships are easy-going, while others are drama-filled. Many teens make their friends via shared interests or circumstances, such as playing in the marching band together, going to the same gym, or sitting next to each other in chemistry class.

Regardless of how or why your teen has connected with their friends, it's important for them to understand how to be a good friend, how positive relationships are fostered, and what a healthy friendship is. It's also key for them to know how to develop new friendships and to be familiar with signs of bullying and other toxic social behaviors. Learn more about how to talk to your teen about the fine points of friendship.

What Are Teen Friendships Like?

While they may have learned to "play well with others" during their childhood, developing friendships independently is a different matter. When they were younger, you may have set up playdates for your kids. As your children get older, however, you'll need to give them some freedom in choosing who they want to hang out with.

As kids enter middle and high school, they begin to form and maintain relationships and make plans with their friends on their own, says Katharine Reynolds, PhD, a professor and licensed psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Teens are also learning to forge deeper friendships while exploring their identity through their social relationships.

"Emotional changes at this age include a greater ability to talk about and understand one’s emotions verbally, which aligns with the increased nuance of social relationships and romantic relationships for teens," says Dr. Reynolds.

Teens need to learn to navigate the occasionally tricky terrain that these relationships can take. Kids can sometimes go from besties to "on the outs" and back again in a matter of minutes. The number and closeness of their friendships vary quite a bit among kids, too. Some have just one or two good friends, while others may run with a large pack.

How Parents Can Help Teens Navigate Friendship

You can help guide your teen in choosing their friends, although the ultimate decision should remain with your teenager. We all click with different people in different ways, so it's important to let your child follow their instincts and heart on which friendships to pursue. A teen who learns how to seek out and maintain healthy friendships now will continue this practice into their adult life.

"Social relationships during the teen years may also become very emotionally fraught," explains Dr. Reynolds. So, it's important to offer guidance about how to handle issues that may come up with their friends.

Your teen may get into an argument with a friend, be upset about something a friend is doing, or switch friend groups. You can use these situations as teachable moments to talk about what makes a good friend and how to handle conflict.

These are opportunities that parents can take advantage of to explain the finer points of dealing with friendships, says Dr. Reynolds. Make sure that you do not take sides in the fight. Instead, listen and try to understand how your child is feeling.

Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Friendship

One of the most important ways to help your child with their friendships is to foster open communication with them. Moreover, aim to listen to what they have to say as much or more than you focus on telling them what you think. However, here are a few points to pass on to your teenager when talking about friendships.

Embracing Possibilities

Everyone is allowed to have many friends and many types of friends. Sometimes, friendships are forged due to shared interests, activities, or proximity, such as going to the same school, living on the same block, sharing a passion for anime, or being on the same sports team. Other times, social relationships develop by happenstance or between people who may not seem to have much in common but just click for whatever reason.

Creating a Foundation of Honesty

Honesty and trust are important in all relationships, including friendships. Teach your child about the importance of being candid with their friends while also balancing their need for privacy.

Practicing Forgiveness

Friends sometimes hurt each other, but they can always apologize and forgive each other. Teach your teen that good relationships are worth the work to repair the damage caused by any slights or miscommunications. However, also be sure to pass on the message that some friendships may not be worth saving, particularly in the case of especially egregious actions, such as bullying. In those cases, it's fine to walk away.

Combating Negative Peer Pressure

Friends can influence each other, both in positive and negative ways. It is important to discuss peer pressure with your teen as well as how to cope with it. Talking about these issues before they come up can help your child resist negative influences—and may help them to be more forthcoming with you when they experience peer pressure.

"Modeling talking about difficult issues in an open, direct, and honest way with your teens will increase the likelihood that they will come to you when issues with these difficult situations occur in the future," says Dr. Reynolds.

Choosing Friends Wisely

Who your teen chooses to be their friend is important. They might choose friends who share similar interests and histories with them—or seek out people who have entirely different backgrounds and passions. Note that it is OK and even beneficial to make friends with people of different genders, too.

The most important things to look for are whether or not the person will be a good friend and if your teen enjoys spending time with them. If it's a yes on both counts, then that person is likely a good person to choose as a friend.

Putting in the Work

It takes many learned skills to make and maintain a friendship. It also takes many skills to end a friendship. The reality is that most friendships will experience conflict, and friends will have to work through it to maintain the relationship or part ways. If a friendship is becoming draining or negative, ending the friendship is a valid choice.

Key friendship skills include talking about what you need, sharing your true feelings, being flexible, giving time and space to the relationship, and caring about each other. Considering the other person's feelings is paramount as well.

It's important to stand by good friends in the hard times, but you also don't want to give and give without anything in return. Ultimately, healthy friendships are a two-way street. So, remind your teen to focus on the friends who bring something positive into their life and are as committed to being a good friend as they are.

Building Closeness

It can take time to make a good friend, but it is often worth the effort. Spending time together will help you get to know your friends well so that you can feel comfortable sharing feelings. Doing things together, whether it's homework, kicking a soccer ball, or working on an art project, also builds closeness.

Plus, while friendships can be built from a variety of modes of connection, including social media, texting, video chats, and phone calls, remember that time in-person matters, too,

"While online relationships can feel like a safe haven to socially struggling teens, try to ensure that your child is working to develop in-person relationships," explains Caroline Fulton, PsyD, a child and adolescent psychologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.

Seeking Healthy Friendships

A good friend will make you feel good about yourself. On the other hand, some friendships can turn toxic and leave you questioning your self-worth. "Social relationships can be complex, and exclusion at this age is especially painful," explains Dr. Fulton. If friendships become toxic or include bullying, it's often a good strategy to walk away.

The great thing is that there are almost always new opportunities to find other friends. "If your child is struggling with relationships, help them to engage in new activities, clubs, or groups to find peer connections," advises Dr. Fulton.

Growing Apart

While some people maintain friendships throughout life changes, it's important for teens to know that it is also OK for friends to outgrow each other. People change as they find new interests and mature. It's also common for friendships to shift as kids move to different schools, homes, or stages of life as it takes extra effort to maintain friendships that don't put kids in close proximity to each other.

A Word From Verywell

In many ways, friendship comes naturally to children. However, it is also is a skill to learn and manage, particularly as kids get older. Aim to have an open dialog with your teen about their friends and what they want from their relationships. Talking to your teens about being a good friend can help them develop these important skills and navigate the potential challenges that often occur in adolescence.

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10 Sources
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