Teen Friendships and Peer Relationships

Teen friendshipsYour teen’s friendships and relationships with peers are the most important thing in his or her life.

Everyone needs to belong — to feel connected with others and be with others who share attitudes, interests, and circumstances that resemble their own. People choose friends who accept and like them and see them in a favorable light.

While many families help teens in feeling proud and confident of their unique traits, backgrounds, and abilities, peers are often more accepting of the feelings, thoughts, and actions associated with the teen’s search for self-identity.

The influence of peers — whether positive or negative — is of critical importance. Whether you like it or not, the opinions of your child’s peers often carry more weight than yours.

Positive Peer Pressure

The ability to develop healthy friendships and peer relationships depends on a teen’s self-identity, self-respect, and self-reliance.

At its best, peer pressure can mobilize your teen’s energy, motivate for success, and encourage your teen to conform to healthy behavior.  Peers can and do act as positive role models. Peers can and do demonstrate appropriate social behaviors.  Peers often listen to, accept, and understand the frustrations, challenges, and concerns associated with being a teenager.

Negative Peer Pressure

The need for acceptance, approval, and belonging is vital during the teen years.Teens who feel isolated or rejected by their peers  — or in their family — are more likely to engage in risky behaviors in order to fit in with a group. In such situations, peer pressure can impair good judgment and fuelrisk-taking behavior, drawing a teen away from the family and positive influences and luring into dangerous activities.

For example, teens with ADHD, learning differences or disorders are often rejected due to their age-inappropriate behavior, and thus are more likely to associate with other rejected and/or delinquent peers. Teenage girls frequently enter into sexual relationships when what they are seeking is acceptance, approval, and love.

A powerful negative peer influence can motivate a teen to make choices and engage in behavior that his or her values might otherwise reject. Some teens will risk being grounded, losing their parents’ trust, or even facing jail time, just to try and fit in or feel like they have a group of friends they can identify with and who accept them. Sometimes, teens will change the way they dress, their friends, give up their values or create new ones, depending on the people they hang around with.

Some teens harbor secret lives governed by the influence of their peers. Some — including those who appear to be well-behaved, high-achieving teens when they are with adults — engage in negative, even dangerous behavior when with their peers. 

Once influenced, teens may continue the slide into problems with the law,substance abuse, school problems, defiant behavior, gang involvement, etc.

If your teen associates with people who are using drugs or displaying self-destructive behaviors, then your child is most likely doing the same.

Encourage Healthy and Positive Relationships

It is important to encourage friendships among teens. We all want our children to be with persons who will have a positive influence, and stay away from persons who will encourage or engage in harmful, destructive, or illegal activities.

Parents can support positive peer relationships by giving their teenagers their love, time, boundaries, and encouragement to think for themselves.

Specifically, you can show support by:

  • Having a positive relationship with your teen.  Whenparent-teen interactions are characterized by warmth, kindness, consistency, respect, and love, the relationship will flourish, as will the teen’s self-confidence, mental health, spirituality, and social skills.

  • Being genuinely interested in your teen’s activities. This allows parents to know their teen’s friends and to monitor behavior, which is crucial in keeping teens out of trouble. When misbehavior does occur, parents who have involved their children in setting family rules and consequences can expect less flack from their children as they calmly enforce the rules. Parents who, together with their children, set firm boundaries and high expectations may find that their children’s abilities to live up to those expectations grow.

  • Encouraging independent thought and expression.  In this way, teens can develop a healthy sense of self and an enhanced ability to resist negative peer pressure.

When Parents Don’t Approve

You may not be comfortable about your son or daughter’s choice of friends or peer group. This may be because of their image, negative attitudes, or serious behaviors (such as alcohol use, drug use, truancyviolencesexual behaviors).

Here are some suggestions:

  • Get to know the friends of your teen.  Learn their names, invite them into your home so you can talk and listen to them, and introduce yourself to their parents.
  • Do not attack your child’s friends.  Remember that criticizing your teen’s choice of friends is like a personal attack.
  • Help your teen understand the difference between image (expressions of youth culture) and identity (who he or she is).
  • Keep the lines of communication open and find out why these friends are important to your teenager.
  • Check whether your concerns about their friends are real and important.
  • If you believe your concerns are serious, talk to your teen about behavior and choices ― not the friends.
  • Encourage your teen’s independence by supporting decision-making based on principles and not other people.
  • Let your teen know of your concerns and feelings.
  • Encourage reflective thinking by helping your teen think about his or her actions in advance and discussing immediate and long-term consequences of risky behavior.
  • Remember that we all learn valuable lessons from mistakes.

No matter what kind of peer influence your teen faces, he or she must learn how to balance the value of going along with the crowd (connection) against the importance of making principle-based decisions (independence)

And you must ensure that your teen knows that he or she is loved and valued as an individual at home.