Adolescents and teens may look more and more like adults, but their judgment and decision making is decidedly not adult. This goes for just about everything, including friendships. Helping your older child manage friendships is a tricky business – and plays into your relationship with your child. You want to help, you want to guide, you want to give them the tools they need, and you want to protect your relationship with your child – but you’re still the parent and you still have an important role to play in your child’s life and relationships.
As your child gets older, the uncertainty of adolescence plays into and changes friendships, and friendships are more heavily influenced by group dynamics. Your child may still have best friend, but there will be group dynamics to consider, too. Sadly, your child may not get through the teen years unscathed on friendship issues, but as a parent you can be there to help and guide – and set boundaries.
The power of peers
Adolescents and teens like to fit in, and therein lies the power of the group. What the group is doing, what “everybody” is doing is paramount – in their minds anyway. “Peer pressure” and everything you have heard about it is real. For both parents and kids, it can be a little scary. How peer pressure will manifest itself on any given day is a big unknown for everyone.
No matter what your child’s peer group, there will be peer pressure. As adolescents fraction off into athletic groups, band groups, science groups, and the myriad others, there is peer pressure in each of them – sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and often a mix of both. Understanding that it’s there, talking about it, and trying to use peer pressure in a postive way is a first step to helping your older child managing the changing friendship dynamics in his or her life.
It’s a fact that people change. Particularly in adolescence as kids start trying to find their own way, are under less parental control, families and circumstances change, and so on, and they change. The sweet little boy down the street who was your son’s best friend may be having a tough time with adolescence and may not be the right best friend for your child now. You can have compassion for that boy, hope for the future, and may even offer safe haven at times, but you still may need to back off the closeness the children once shared.
It’s hard, for both your child and you, to recognize and act when adoslescent friendships become unhealthy for any reason – but it’s the right thing to do. Making sure your child’s friendships at this age are healthy ones is critical for not only their emotional health, but often their physical health, too.
You still have influence
As a parent, you still have influence. Your child may not like to admit it, but you do. As a parent you set boundaries for activities and friends that help your child manage relationships. Your involvement and influence is critical to their health and safety, and in helping to develop and maintain healthy friendships.
Let this influence be a tool your child can use. A teen, in fact, may find it convenient to say, “My mom won’t let me,” or some such comment, as a way to to avoid participating in something they are uncomfortable with. It can be a tool you child uses to maintain an appearance with the peer group while making the right social choice. Sure, you look like a stick in the mud to the peer group, but that’s your job, right?
If anything, adolescents and teens need more supervision with their friends. While they want more privacy, more time away from adult eyes, you know (and likely remember!) that total independence and privacy is not such a good idea. Whether it’s creating a safe and attractive place in your home where your child and his friends can hang out (and you can keep an eye), or creating a network of parents to supervise a group, there are plenty of creative ways to supervise what your older child is up to – and be available to your child and his or her friends when they need a responsible adult.
Helping an older child manage friendships is tricky, yes, and sometimes hard. With communication, boundaries, and supervision, your child can develop and maintain healty relationship that will last beyond this tumultuous time.