What You Need to Know about Teens and Their Friends

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I have often remarked that in their teen years, my daughters seemed to change friends more often than they changed clothes! As it turned out, these times were just a phase. As the circumstances and seasons of their lives ebbed and flowed, so did their friendships.

The increasing influence of peer friendships is an inevitable component of childhood and adolescence, and a powerful voice in our kids’ lives. Helping them navigate this aspect of life is more than just a good idea; it’s vital. Later on in life, as they move into new environments such as college and the work force, the ability to develop trusted, positive friendships will be crucial to their success.

During the teen years in particular, your son or daughter will likely develop friendships that are deeper, more exclusive, and more constant than in earlier years. These relationships provide teens with safety zones where they can feel accepted, explore who they are, and experience a sense of belonging. Here, they can practice the social skills they will need to navigate the real world for the rest of their lives. For all these reasons, peer relationships are a good—and necessary—part of our children’s personal development.

Parents may complain, “My kids don’t listen to me anymore,” or, “Their friends matter more than we do.” On the surface, this can appear to be true, especially when our kids seem preoccupied with their friends’ opinions and sometimes inordinately influenced by their values. We worry they will succumb to negative peer pressure and submit to invitations to engage in high-risk behavior.

But, before panicking about your teen succumbing to negative peer influence, stop and consider another perspective. Often, your child’s friends, if they are the right ones, can offer some valuable motivation and feedback:[i]

  • to perform better academically,
  • to participate in sports, clubs, and other school activities,
  • to serve in community and volunteer efforts,
  • to develop qualities like loyalty, commitment, and teamwork,
  • to place a high value on family ties,
  • to steer clear of high risk behaviors and stick to their values,
  • and, to view their parents in a positive light!

Here are some things you should know about teens and their friends:

  • Teenagers often move in and amongst multiple groups of friends at the same time. When they were younger, your children likely had a few close friends. Teenagers, on the other hand, are now exposed to more relational spheres (such as multiple classes at school, sports and clubs, community, youth groups, a job, etc.). Because of this, they will develop different circles of friendships with common interests.
  • Teens will start to entertain friendships at multiple levels (as adults do). Within their growing number of spheres, teens will develop close friends and casual acquaintances. Time spent with each may ebb and flow. They may become closer friends or pull back and move on. They might have close relationships with one or a few individuals. They might also belong to one or more “cliques” or groups of friends that are dissimilar to one another, but with whom they have a degree of affinity or similarity.
  • Teen will try friendships “on for size.” While teens can have friendships that are constant and ongoing, they often move from one group to another. As class schedules, activities, and other involvements change, they might develop new friendships and lose others. Or, they may discover that a friendship they were “trying on for size” wasn’t such a good fit after all, and head for the exit.

All these aspects of teen friendships are preparing your son or daughter for the launch to adulthood and independent living. What better time to find out where and how to make good friends—and when and how to tactfully withdraw from the not-so-good ones—while they are still in the security of home and their secure support system?

Image Credit: Ashana Shine

Arlyn Lawrence is the co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead (available as a leadership and life skills curriculum for teens in standard and Christian editions). Arlyn is the mother of five grown children and grandmother of two. She and co-author Dennis Trittin speak and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in children and young adults. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

[i] Brown, B. B. “Adolescents’ Relationships with Peers,” Handbook of Adolescent Psychology, 2nd Edition, R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), New York: Wiley, 2004, pp. 363-394.