Why teenage friendships are important
For teenagers, good friends can be like a personal support group. Friends and friendships give teenagers:
- a sense of belonging, a feeling of being valued and help with developing confidence
- the sense of security and comfort that comes from being with others going through similar experiences
- 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 the opposite sex
- a chance to experience early romantic and sexual relationships
- a social group to do new things with, especially things that are different from what families do.
Helping your child build friendship skills
Teenagers 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 children having positive relationships with peers. So being warm and supportive, staying connected and actively listening to your child can help him develop friendship skills. You’ll also be better able to support your child if friendship problems come up.
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 teenagers when you see them being fair, trusting and supportive encourages them to keep working on those positive social traits.
Helping teenagers who find it hard to make friends
All children 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 her to join a club, sports team or social group. Mixing with people who share similar interests is a great way to start friendships and build confidence.
- 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.
- Help your child plan an activity with friends. This could be watching a movie at home, having a sleepover or a baking afternoon, or playing some sport at the local park.
- Make sure your child feels comfortable inviting friends home, and give her plenty of space when she does.
- Think about a part-time job or volunteer community activity. Working, particularly in a place with other young employees or volunteers, can give your child a chance to practise social skills as well as building job skills for the future.
- Try to work out whether there are particular issues that are making it difficult for your child to make friends, like lack of opportunity, lack of particular social skills or lack of confidence. Then think about ways you can work on these. You might want to ask for professional advice for complex issues.
- 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
Teenagers spend less time with their parents and much more time with friends. Some parents worry that these intense friendships will take over and friends will become more important than family.
But your child still needs you and the secure base you provide. Being interested and available lets your child know that he can turn to you when he needs to. As your child gets older and more mature, you might also notice that your child gives you some support too.
Teenagers do share a lot with and copy a great deal from their friends. For example, teenagers 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.
What teenage friendships look like
During the early teenage years, friendships become more intense, close and supportive. The amount that teenagers communicate with their friends increases.
Teenage friendships tend to be based on personal similarity, acceptance and sharing. Same-sex friendships are the norm during the early high school years. As they get older, though, many teenagers also make friends with the opposite sex.
Girls tend to build closeness through conversation, and boys often prefer to share activities. But many boys enjoy in-depth conversation, and many girls enjoy just hanging out and doing stuff together.
The internet lets teenagers make and maintain friendships through social media. It’s a natural extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions.