Today’s post is the second in my series called “Talking to Teenagers.” In these articles, I’m addressing common questions and concerns I get from parents about how to guide, support, and teach their tweens and teens. I’m sharing strategies and inviting parents and supporters to reflect as they explore ongoing, intentional dialogue with their children. Be sure to read my first blog, about social media, too!
Parents often share with me that they’re worried about their child’s friendships, or lack thereof. Some parents have spent hours comforting and advising their child after a conflict over social media. Others have encouraged their tween to find a new group of friends that can be a better influence. Many have experimented with giving their children space, steering clear of voicing their judgments or advice. Lots of them have talked with teachers about their child’s social life at school. All of them want their teens and tweens to have strong, supportive, and healthy friendships.
Friendship is complex, just like family relationships. There are many layers of needs, preferences, pressures, expectations, and ambiguities to navigate. You may recall from last week’s article that the teenage brain is still developing, particularly in the areas that control rational, logical, and critical thinking. Thus, our teens and tweens tend to be very impressionable. Compounded on this is the fact that our young people are managing friendships IRL (in real life) and online. They are bombarded with input and stimulation.
I have 5 strategies for talking to teens about friendship. These drive meaningful dialogue and invite your teen to develop their sense of empowerment.
- Define friendship loosely; teach that it is a process that’s always in progress. Here’s my working definition: Friendship is a mutual and supportive relationship with a peer.
- Friendships take many forms. They can be based on common interests, such as art, sports, or academic subject areas, and may exist primarily in the spaces of these activities.
- Friendship may be more emotional or spiritual in nature- focused on deep connections and conversations.
- Acknowledge all types of friendships, and keep conversation about the definition of friendship open.
- Create dialogue about needs. Help your teens know that their needs are real, valid needs, and deserve to be met.
- Ask what their needs and desires are within a friendship.
- Consider taking the love languages quiz and invite them to do the same. Here’s the link for teens! Together, research and explore how our needs show up in our love languages.
- Acknowledge that needs will be met in a variety of ways, and one friendship won’t necessarily meet all needs.
- Teach and model emotional intelligence. Invite your teen to observe emotions that come up when they’re with friends, to notice where they feel sensations in their body.
- They can watch and name emotions that arise with friends online or over texts.
- They can practice this with friends in class, at lunch, or out at a late-night dinner.
- Offer questions to consider. For example, “Where do you notice tension/excitement/love/fear in your body?” “What do you feel in your friendship with ______ ?” “Where do you feel sensation in your body?” “What emotion do you think is behind that feeling?” At first, your teen may want to answer internally only; this is a significant start!
- The greater their emotional awareness, the more intentional teens can be in decision-making, including decisions about friendship.
- Discuss the fact that we always have a wide range of choices and options when it comes to friends. Help teens let go of a scarcity mindset ; truly, there cannot be a shortage of people to interact and build bonds with.
- This concept helps eliminate tendencies toward competition. Any sense of performing for another’s friendship becomes null when we are pure in our intentions to connect.
- This concept invites teens to walk away from friendships that aren’t serving them, knowing that they can and will make new friends. They have permission to choose what serves them and makes them feel authentic, respected, and loved.
- Recall tip #1: Shared interests can be pathways to new friendships. Encourage activities and passions; these will bring teens into connection with new friends. More activities means more opportunities for friendships.
- Normalize conversation about relationships by sharing your own experience with friendships occasionally.
- Openly share stories of what has made some of your friendships strong, healthy, and fulfilling. Likewise, share stories about friendships you have had to take space from because they weren’t supportive, fun, or in alignment with your needs. Keep these brief and remember that they are intended to be a mirror for your teen.
- Explain your process to coming to these realizations. Be explicit about the actions you took.
- We are models for our young people, no matter what we do, so conversations that include mental processing and strategy provide our teens with models for doing the same in their lives.
- For example, I might share the following experience, “I noticed that I wasn’t laughing much with a friend. I felt really serious in her presence. Conversation always felt tense and serious. I decided to ask this friend to walk at the lake with me; I feel comfortable and open in nature. This invitation was an opportunity to try something new within the friendship, to see if my needs for fun and curiosity could be better met in a different setting with this friend. She agreed to walk– perhaps she had needs that could be met by the walk too! The next week, we enjoyed a long chat while exercising. I felt more like myself, and I was smiling more.”
As you engage with your teen, know that these strategies may take time to sink in, and it may take multiple attempts before you see a shift. Yet, rest assured that when you are speaking from the heart and staying open to your teen’s truths, connections are happening. Their friendships will involve moments of heartbreak, bad decisions, awkwardness and more, but this is normal! Keep holding space. <3