TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
Sam's life revolves around his friends,” complains my friend of her 17-year-old son, “even though sometimes all they do is hang out or play Xbox or PlayStation.”
Teen friendships can have a big impact on behaviour and lead to choices that can have lasting implications. Friendships formed during these year s provide children the opportunity to prepare for later skills that they would need when dealing with a lover, a boss, and, eventually, a child of their own.
A teen with a group of friends has a second family to bolster him and help him hone a new worldview that he, otherwise, would not get at home.
Friends allow teens to feel accepted and share values. And a teen friendship offers a wonderful lab for practising social skills – an activity as simple as deciding together whether to go to the mall or to the movies helps build teamwork; comforting a friend whose parents are divorcing builds empathy.
Boys’ friendships centre more on activities – they’ll play videogames or sports together. Girls’ friendships are more about sharing and talking. And friendships between boys and girls allow teens to learn to relate to the opposite sex without the complications of dating.
Of course, online friendships are a big part of teen life, and this worries many parents who understandably prefer someone they can meet and talk to in person.
Through social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace and in media such as phone text messaging, IM (instant messaging) and chatrooms, teens can gather with the friends they just saw at school or meet new ones in cyberspace, enjoying an anonymity they would not get at intimidating school halls or canteens.
Self-presentation is an important part of growing up, and the online space is all about getting feedback on yourself. Teens – or even a kid who’s just a plain old geek in real life – can try on different identities, blog about real and fantasy issues, and create a daring profile that may attract attention.
Healthy teen friendships, online or off, can help develop positive social skills. But the strength of these bonds can work the other way, too.
Chris Knoester, who researches teen behaviour at Ohio State University in the United States, says: “Parents have the ability to influence the friendship formations of their adolescent children.”
Strong family values and plenty of time together give adolescents a foundation to choose positive friendships, says the researcher, who adds that at the end of the day, teens find friends who share values they have already developed at home.
You may not be able to pick your teens’ friends, but you can influence their choices. Knoester suggests:
- Clearly communicate family values to your kids from early on.
- Stay close to your kids: Teens who have positive relationships with their parents make better choices in their friendships.
- Foster a positive environment: Encourage your teens to join clubs, teams, sports, etc. You may ask: how involved should parents be in their teens’ friendships? Give your teen some privacy – but don’t hesitate to observe wherever and whenever you can.
- Go to school events. A good place to find out who are their friends.
- Try to meet parents of your teens’ friends. Knowing the parents helps you discern the background of your teen’s friend and establish another line of contact when the need arises.
- Keep the computer in public areas of the house for ease of accountability.
- Involve their friends in family activities, such as going for a movie together. It can help strengthen relationships with your teen’s friends and help you feel comfortable with their mates.
- Making your home a welcome place for teens to hang out. So that the home can be a place where our teens and their friends can be together safely and with little super vision. This step offers a positive aspect in their lives.
- Ask your child relevant, but not prying, questions about his friends.
If you feel that your teen is hanging out with people who may be dramatically changing his values and ideals, talk with him about what’s going on. The need for parents to know trumps privacy.
Most of the time, friends serve as a buffer to everything – both good and bad – that goes on in a teen’s life. Teens have a lot of pressure on them to be the best in school, sports, and life.
I think Sam’s friends offer a diversion: The laughs he needs, the chance to share a sad moment. He might not know it, but while he’s laughing and sharing, Sam’s friendships are helping him develop in ways that will likely affect his entire lifetime.
To quote former US President Abraham Lincoln: “The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.”
Truly, in the teen years, friendship is a whole new ball game. Your involvement in your teen’s life will, to a large extent, determine their future success. And understanding teen friendships and knowing what to expect as your teens become more independent and interdependent with their friends is an important part of the parenting process.
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.