Parents know how important it is for their children to develop trusted and healthy friendships in the ever-changing world of growing up. For many, peer pressure causes stress and can provoke unsafe behaviors.
But peer groups can also be safe havens for connection, positive behaviors and maturing responsibly. So, how do you teach your children about friendship – what makes a good friend and how can you be one?
The keys to developing healthy friendships outside the home begin inside your home.
Did your parents ever tell you to “just work it out” when you had a conflict with a sibling or friend? That can work – sometimes – but it often helps to provide support or
demonstrate role-modeling behaviors about healthy friendships.
Showing empathy, curiosity about others, cooperation, forgiveness and how to apologize will be attributes that your child can observe and mirror in school and on the playground.
Friendships provide the opportunity to learn about talking and listening. Children need to know that listening when a friend needs to share their emotions or feelings is an important part of a healthy relationship. And kids need to know that their true friends will listen to them, too.
Every relationship has its ups and downs. Teaching children to express themselves and resolve disagreements without “winning or losing a fight” is a life skill that brings stability and respect to all personal relationships, whether at home, at school or in their other activities.
The potentially negative aspect of peer pressure is a genuine concern for most parents. But peer influence can also be protective when healthy friendships are involved.
Teens develop social skills by hanging out with their friends. Meeting new people, fitting into a group, getting teased, teasing back and sharing funny stories are all important parts of friendship. It’s a good idea to talk with your teenager to see if these behaviors are common within their peer groups.
It’s also important to talk with your teens about when to keep a friend’s confidence and when to tell an adult. No one wants to be a tattletale or get their friends in trouble. But when teens learn about or observe potentially dangerous thoughts or behaviors from a peer – such as thoughts of suicide, plans for school violence, self-harm or an alarming use of drugs or alcohol – it’s critical for them to tell an adult.
Sometimes interests and priorities change as children mature into adolescents, or friends change schools or move away. If your teen is facing a friendship void, encourage exploring extracurricular activities and joining sports teams, clubs, or church groups where they can make new and more like-minded friends.
Remember – children at different ages require different levels of support. You can help by finding out if your child is feeling vulnerable, left out or lonely, and by providing support when they need it.
Tweens and teens of all ages who are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide or who just need to talk about their problems with a teen peer counselor who understands what they are going through are encouraged to call or text the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN (8336) for free and confidential help. Trained teenage peer counselors answer phone lines between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. every day of the year.
At all other times, calls are answered by specially trained crisis intervention specialists.