The Drive for Friendships in Adolescence

Often, parents think that a teenager’s drive for friendships is a rejection of them.

Unfortunately, this mindset devalues their child’s social connections; also, it misses something basic and natural about the adolescent brain.

Dr. Daniel Siegel clears the air on friendships in his bestselling book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.

In this book, he describes 4 major manifestations of the adolescent brain; specifically,

Importantly, these signs are not personal to the teenager; also, they don’t mean anything about genes or parenting.
Many parents see their teenager's social connections as a rejection of them.
Many parents see their child’s friendships as a rejection, but this is not the case.
In other words, a teenager’s friendships are about the brain, not their parents.

Following are the possible cons of these social connections:

  • first, not spending any time with adults
  • next, too much time with other teens
  • some of these teens may be at-risk
  • lastly, lack of “adult knowledge and adult reasoning” can contribute to more at-risk behavior

There are pros as well:

  • teens are creating supportive relationships
  • and, supportive relationships, “are the best predictors of well-being, longevity, and happiness throughout the life span”
  • teens are flexing their independence muscles
Friendships are natural and healthy for teens.
Social connections contribute to a teen’s happiness and well being.
How do parents nurture the pros of their teenager’s friendships?
Dr. Kevin Leman has a few tips. He is author of, Have a New Teenager By Friday: From Mouthy and Moody to Respectful and Responsible in 5 Days.
  • First, invite your teens to socialize with their friends at your house, or otherwise, under your supervision.
  • This decreases the chance of at-risk behavior.
  • Second, if and when there is a friend whom you don’t trust, and you don’t want him/her in your house, tell your child directly, honestly, and calmly.
    • Don’t react to your child’s drama around this; simply stand firm.
    • Also, tell your teen that you don’t want him/her around this person outside of home either.
      • You likely won’t have much control over this, but at least you’re being consistent.
Other ways to connect with your teens, and support their friendships at the same time:
  • Schedule regular meals or other face-time with your children.
    • Most importantly, don’t spring this on them, but schedule it in advance.
    • Be respectful of their commitments.
    • Feel entirely within your rights as a parent to demand time with them.
  • When you connect, ask open-ended questions about their friends; for example,
    • Who’s your best friend?
    • What’s the connection between you?
    • What do you value in other friends?
    • How do you see yourself as a friend?
    • What are the most important elements of friendship for you?
  • Share about your friends.
    • Be authentic.
    • Whatever you ask of your teen about his/her friendships, ask yourself as well, and share this with your child.
    • At the same time, be sure that the content of your sharing is appropriate for your child.
Whatever you do, remember that your child’s social connections are a normal and healthy manifestation of the adolescent brain, not a rejection of you as a parent.

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