How to Talk to Your Teen About Friendship

Young people having fun

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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, others are drama-filled. Many teens make their friends via shared interests or circumstances, such as playing on the same sports team, living on the same block, 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 or 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 have likely learned to 'play well with others" during their childhood, developing independent friendships is a different matter. No more are the days of parents setting up playdates for their kids. Instead, parents must give their teenager 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.

Preteens and teens quickly become responsible for deciding whether to be someone's friend or not. They will also 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 run may run with a pack.

How Parents Can Help Teens

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.

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. 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 Friendships

Here are a few points to remember when talking about friendships with your teenager:

  • Everyone is allowed to have many friends and many types of friends.
  • Honesty is important in a friendship.
  • Friends sometimes hurt each other, but they can always apologize and forgive each other.
  • Friends can influence each other, both in a positive way and in a negative way. It is important to discuss peer pressure with your teen.
  • Who you choose to be your friend is important. It is essential that you choose wisely and that you benefit from the friendship.
  • It takes many learned skills to make and maintain a friendship. It also takes many skills to end a friendship.
  • It is okay and even beneficial to make friends with the opposite gender.
  • It can take time to make a good friend. It is often worth the effort because a good friend can be a confidant to help a teenager with stress or problems.
  • Spending time together will help you get to know your friends well so that you can feel comfortable sharing feelings.
  • A good friendship will make you feel good about yourself.
  • It is okay for friends to outgrow each other. People change as they find new interests and people to hang out with as they mature.
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  2. Birkeland MS, Breivik K, Wold B. Peer acceptance protects global self-esteem from negative effects of low closeness to parents during adolescence and early adulthood. J Youth Adolesc. 2014;43(1):70-80. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-9929-1