We all know how important Teenage friendships are for them. If you have a teenager at home you may notice how much time they spend talking to friends or going on social media. At times, it can seem like friends are all your teen cares about. Things that used to feel important like school or family time seem left behind.
For other teenagers, you may notice them being more withdrawn or shy. Or just avoidant of situations where other teens will be around. You want so much for them to connect to their peers. It seems every time you bring it up, you just get, “leave me alone,” or “I’m fine.”
The truth is, it is common for the teenage years to be filled with intense feelings, pressure, and stress.
A teenager’s social life can be a supportive factor from these issues. Sometimes it can be a source of some of these same struggles.
As a parent, it can be difficult to navigate your role during this time. Especially when it comes to your teen’s social world. Just as teenagers are changing from children to young adults, your role as a parent is also changing. Gone are the days of setting up playdates for them or getting to know all the parents of your child’s friends. There are also increasingly more times where parents are not around.
Whether it’s a trip to the mall with their friends or just constant interactions on social media, you may feel worried about what your teen may be dealing with within their social world. Perhaps there are certain friends of your teen that you feel may not be the best influence. Of course, as soon as you mention that to your teen they roll their eyes or explain why you are wrong.
You want to protect them from being hurt by others or from placing themselves in dangerous situations. At the same time you want them to connect with peers, feel accepted, and learn to be independent.
Knowing why friends are so important for your teenager as well as some ways to address common difficulties, can help you parent your teen with more confidence.
Teenage Friendships give teenagers a sense of ‘who they are,’ but what if my teen is trying too hard to fit in?
During adolescence, a big part of a teenager’s identity comes from their social relationships. Having friends gives teens a sense of acceptance and belonging. Friendships can help a teen receive the message “I’m good enough.”
If a teenager feels liked, supported, and accepted by friends, this can help provide a sense of security and self-worth.
Friendships give teens the message that it’s ok to be who they are and enjoy the things they enjoy. Oftentimes, we see teen friends dress similarly, talk the same way, and be interested in the same things. This can help instill that feeling of belonging and being around people who understand them.
Of course, friendships are not always easy for teens. Because of how important it is for teens to feel they belong, feeling criticized or not supported by friends can feel devastating for teens. This can lead teens to avoid expressing how they really feel or doing things they fear will be undesirable to their friend group. You may notice your teen trying too hard to fit in with their friends.
In teen therapy at Simi Psychological Group we work with teens to explore meaning in their friendships. During therapy in Simi Valley, Ca, teenagers can learn to challenge fears of being rejected and learn to live more confidently as themselves. Being able to communicate with friends and sometimes say “no” to them can be a scary but empowering process. Our therapists work with teens to explore the value in this process as well as with parents to explore how to best support their teen when it comes to their social relationships.
Healthy friendships lead to better emotional well-being, but what if my teen is isolating?
There is ample research that teenagers with healthy friendships enjoy several mental health benefits. These benefits include feeling more confident and more motivated in their lives. Teenagers with healthy friendships also experience less symptoms of depression and generally experience more positive feelings.
As a parent, this becomes important to remember especially during this current time of quarantine and social distancing. Encouraging your teen to stay connected virtually or in person (with safety measures of course), can be an important step toward increasing your teen’s feelings of satisfaction.
It can be difficult as a parent if you notice that your teen is isolated or withdrawn. Likely, your teen will push back against your suggestions to reach out to their peers., but it’s ok to keep encouraging them. Another step you can take is encouraging them to get out with you. Even simple things like running an errand or ordering food for themselves can help your teen start to feel more engaged and capable—which can then be helpful for connecting to peers.
During online teen therapy sessions at Simi Psychological Group, we work with teens to recognize the source of isolating themselves. Often, feelings of inadequacy or fear of rejection can be at the heart of this isolation. We work with teens and their families to learn how to make opportunities for feeling more confident and capable in their lives.
Friendships are a way for teens to start exploring their independence, but what if my teen wants way more freedom than they are ready for?
During adolescence, teenagers are starting to explore who they are outside of the family. Being able to do things on their own, especially with friends, becomes an important part of developing their identity. Teens may be more resistant to having a friend come over compared to going out with a friend somewhere. They want to feel more in charge of things like when they sleep, how late they can come home, what they’re allowed to do when they are out.
This healthy desire for independence may lead to conflict at home, especially if your teen is pushing back against rules or if they are making unsafe choices. As a parent, one important way to address this is by setting healthy boundaries. Being very clear about what the expectations are, while also giving your teen space to do more without you knowing every detail can be a healthy balance to strive for. You can make it clear you need to know the ‘big’ things like where your teen is going and how they’re getting there, while also trying to as a hundred more questions can help your teen feel the sense of trust you have for their independence, while within the boundaries you set for them.
In teen therapy in Simi Valley, Ca we work with teens and their parents to recognize the importance of fostering a sense of independence during adolescence. We work with families to explore barriers to this and explore ways to improve communication at home. Helping parents learn to ease their worry about letting their teen have a healthy amount of independence with friends, while also helping teens recognize their own role in building trust and responsibility, can help improve family dynamics during the complex teenage years.
Friendships are a part of seeking “emotional independence” too, but what if my teen is completely shutting me out?
Another important part of a teenager’s development, is learning that they can face difficult issues. Friendships are a common source of these issues for a teenager. Just as we talked about a teenager being able to do more on their own, we also recognize that teenagers are learning to deal with more on their own. Part of adolescents’ development is discovering how they will deal with issues with their friends in a way that will work for them. Of course, this isn’t always an easy or straightforward process.
As a parent, you may be able to tell when something is not going right with your teen’s social life, but as soon as you ask about it, you get shut down or one-word answers.
One thing to keep in mind is that teen’s often keep things to themselves when they fear that their parents will take over the situation. If your teen describing an issue with a friend will lead to you saying things like, “here’s what you should do…” or, “that is not a good friend for you…” your teen will be more likely to keep things private.
Learning to support your teen without trying to solve the problem for them can be an important step toward improving communication.
During therapy in Simi Valley, Ca we work with teens to recognize ways to build their confidence. In particular in dealing with social issues, while also working on related communication issues at home. Learning to communicate areas they can use support rather than shutting parents out can be a helpful skill for teens. At the same time, we work with parents to recognize the importance for their teens to feel accepted. Rather than judged or ‘micro-managed’ when it comes to dealing with social issues. Exploring these tricky topics during family therapy sessions can be a meaningful way to build a sense of support and communication between parents and their teens.
Teenage years are heavily influenced by friendships and social interactions. This can be a difficult time for both teens as well as their parents. Remembering why these social factors are so important for your teenager as well as fostering a sense of independence in your teen’s ability to manage their social world. This can help both you and your teen navigate these years more confidently.
John Danial, Ph.D.