My son turned 18 recently. I wanted to surprise him with dinner with family and his closest friends. I could easily organise the family part, but to coordinate with his friends, I needed someone from his friend group to help me. I started planning his surprise birthday three weeks before his birthday so that I could ensure that everyone closest to him could be there. I contacted one of his friends to help me with the guest list, and he was ever so willing and helpful.
The funny thing is I was afraid. I trusted them, but I was also afraid that they might accidentally spill the beans, especially considering that they speak and meet each other almost every single day, so my concerns were valid, I think. But I was amazed how every single one of his friends played their part in keeping it hush right to the very end. Even that friend whom he was meeting a few hours before the dinner played it cool and made a great excuse to cut their outing short so that he had enough time to make it to the dinner venue.
He has had this group of friends for the past 7 years of his life. They were and are still as thick as thieves, even today, when each of them has gone their separate ways to attend different colleges. They speak to each other almost every day and try and see each other as much as they can.
I think of them as an extension of my son, an extension of our small family. They are all different, different in personalities, in their visions of the future, but somehow, they have all found a common ground without losing themselves.
I am grateful that my son has them in his life, especially during his teen years when everything can be a bit confusing. I can only assume that they have been there for each other not only for the good times but also for the tough times any one of them was having. There to always support each other.
Some years ago, my son was going through something, and I was having a busy day at the office. I was still in the office late one day when one of my son's friends called me saying he was a bit worried about my son, who was at home at the time, as he wasn't picking up any calls, and it was just unlike him. I told this friend that maybe he was taking a nap, but this friend was insistent that I check on him. I dropped everything in the office and went home.
I was thankful for that call, and I always will. He was indeed having a bad day, which of course, felt like having a bad life at that age. That moment made me realise just how special this group of friends were. They were not just there for the fun times but also for the bad times. They were his extended support system. His extended family.
The teen years are difficult, and we all agree with that, especially in these times. As parents, we put a lot of pressure on our teens to do well in all aspects of their lives - whether it's doing well in school, pushing them in their sports activities, getting them to participate in other activities, or pressuring them to think of the future. That's a lot for a teen who's basically just learning whilst struggling to find themselves.
Often times we might dismiss their friends, thinking that friends can derail their focus on what's 'important'. 'Important' as in what 'important' is to us as parents. We are afraid that some friends might have a bad influence on them. And that's all not without reason. After all, we only want what's best for them. We know too well that bad influences and negative peer pressure can only lead to trouble, but then positive peer pressure can be powerful as well.
Strong, positive, and trusting friendships that they develop during their teen years can have a positive effect on them. They are happier, school becomes easier and enjoyable, they have a support system that truly understands them, and they become mentally and physically healthier. We agree that generally, life is so much more enjoyable when we have great friends.
Even studies have shown that children who develop such friendships are more likely to become healthy, happy and professionally successful adults.
I'm all for supporting my teen's friendships. I know for a fact that they support him and are there for him in ways that I cannot.
Here are 5 SIMPLE WAYS YOU CAN SUPPORT YOUR TEEN'S FRIENDSHIPS
01 Resist Pressuring Them for Information
Of course, we'd like to know who they hang out with, but sometimes, how we ask them about their friends can appear worst than being interrogated by the police and can come across as being intrusive. So be careful. We don't want our teens to go from being willing to tell us stuff to retract and not wanting to tell us anything at all. The last thing we want is for them to distance themselves from us.
02 Welcome Their Friends Into Your Home
It brings me great joy when my son has his friends over. Having an only child, it can be quiet sometimes, especially now, so when his friends are around, the house is a buzz. Not only do I welcome the constant chatter and noise it brings, but it gives me the opportunity to talk to them. Talking to young people just starting out in life fascinates me. Their hopes, dreams, and plans give me a glimpse into their lives, their different personalities, and what the future might hold for them. It makes me super proud of every single one of them.
It's also a sneaky way of getting to know better who your teen is hanging out with without constantly jabbering him about it.
03 Avoid Criticizing Friends You're Not Too Fond Of
There will be that one friend that makes you uneasy whenever your teen is with them. Your brains go a bit haywire thinking about all kinds of trouble that they might be up to. Instead of confronting your teen about this, I suggest keeping it to yourself unless this friend clearly poses an actual danger.
I once started to judge a friend too soon without knowing the back story. Instead of just shooting out my concerns, I gently asked my son about him. My son was only too willing to tell me his story, and by the end of it, I only had empathy for the friend, realising that there was a reason behind his behaviour. I also realised maybe he needed my son to be that positive influence in his life.
When our kids are younger, we might have control over who they are friends with, but as they grow older, that sense of control slowly transfers onto them. You trust that they will make the right decisions, as with everything else. The thing is, if we are non-judgemental and refrain from criticising, our teens are more likely to come to us for advice if things go amiss, so we have to approach it with a bit more tact.
On the positive side, I would rather my son be exposed to different personalities and characters and learn from the experiences with them whilst he is still at home with me so I can be there in case he needs advice or even intervene if it comes to that. I would like to consider them as experiences that he can turn into lessons for future reference!
04 Be Open To Different Groups of Friendships
With the rise of the online gaming culture and social media, we cannot ignore the fact that our teen's social interactions go beyond their friends from school or the neighbourhood. I understand that there is much negativity surrounding online socialising through social media and gaming, especially with the stories we hear about cyberbullying. But teens can and do foster solid friendships from these outlets too.
When my teen started to venture into online gaming many years ago, I would hear him call out names I wasn't familiar with. Definitely not one of his friends from school. At first instance, I was wary. I didn't know these kids, and neither did he all that much apart from on screen. He was much younger then, so I was, of course, concerned, especially with all the stories you here, so I asked questions, and we discussed to some extent about being cautious online.
Online friends can give your kids, especially the shy ones, a platform to make friends without the anxiety of face-to-face interactions. Sometimes, the experiences they go through making online friends can give them the confidence to make friends outside of the home.
I was surprised when my son decided to choose a college that none of his school friends was attending. He wanted to create a different set of friends. I always thought that a friendly face would help the transition be a bit easier and bearable. That decision that he took made him admire him even more. Fast forward a few months, and he has a new set of friends from college that he's sharing new experiences with.
Having different groups of friends can have a positive impact on a growing teen. Obviously, there are different levels to these friendships and even though the relationship he has with his friends from school is a bond that is quite difficult to be broken, having different sets of friends allows him to have a wider experience with friendships.
05 Discuss About What Makes A Good Friend
Watching a movie or discussing a feud between sports personalities or celebrities can open the doors to discussing what friendships are, the intricacies that come with friendships, and picking your teen's brains about what it means to be a good friend and how conflicts are resolved within their circle of friends.
Talking to them like an adult and asking their opinions will more likely get them to open up about their own friendships. If you do want to keep the conversation going, you must be open about what your teen has to say, even if you're not liking what you're hearing. Sit with it for a while and listen to their perspective.
As much as you are respecting what they have to say, they will, in return, respect whatever thoughts you may have.
The formation of friendships during the teen years is important. This is the time when they are discovering themselves and are slowly finding independence away from the family, and having good friends who are going through the same will provide them with the necessary support system that they need to share, be supportive and be vulnerable together. Friendships formed during these years can have a profound effect on your teens and the relationships they foster from here on in.
Supporting your teen's friendships is important to your teens. It might not always be easy, but sometimes, you might have to let go a bit for them to discover not only themselves but what friendships are all about.