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Teens are more selective than younger children are in general. Young kids, especially in the elementary school grades, tend to be accepting of most other kids and take them in as their friends. As kids get older, they develop ideas regarding what groups with which they want to be associated. There is a tendency to label others more. For example, teenagers tend to describe certain groups as Punks, Preps or Skaters.
Of course, all kids are different and just because teens in general tend to group their peers into different groups does not mean that all teens do this, nor does it mean that some younger kids cannot label their peers in similar ways.
That being said, teens are no different from many other age groups. They want people they like and respect to accept them and tend to suffer from depression and anxiety when they have problems with friends.
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How Parents Can Help
When talking to your teen about making friends, here are some things you can focus on to help them develop and keep healthy relationships both at school and at home:
- Demand respect. This does not mean to be aggressive. It means that no one should tolerate people who bully or mistreat others. Respect also crosses over into many other major areas, such as drugs and alcohol, sex and other social choices people make. Tell your teen that anyone who tries to coerce or force them into doing anything they do not feel is right are NOT real friends and that they should avoid them.
- Learn the art of negotiation. Friendship is about compromise. Demonstrate the ability to meet people halfway in a disagreement so that both parties can benefit.
- Drop labels. Teach kids that labeling groups of people is a form of stereotyping. Teach them to see beyond the obvious even if someone dresses, talks or acts differently and remind them that teens do want to be individuals after all. Different kids express this need in different ways. Teach acceptance on all levels, so that your teen will be open to developing friendships with people who may be different from them, but could offer something unique they might not otherwise find with others.
- Be independent. Teens say they want to “be different,” and “do their own thing” and yet they seem to want to conform more than any other group does. Remind them that it is okay to be different and that sometimes being different means being ostracized by others. Point to famous billionaires or other influential people who were considered “weird or strange” by others but who made a huge impact on the world. Examples are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Susan B. Anthony.
- Share with others. This includes not only material possessions, but also their time. People tend to relate more and connect to people who share more of their lives with others. Social media has helped bring people closer in this regard. Care should be taken that teens do not get into conflicts online or spend too much time on technology and not enough with their priorities at school.
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These are just a few thoughts and ideas to help your teen develop relationships with peers. These relationships are important at a time in their lives when the future is unknown as it enables them to build strong ties and have a sense of identity beyond themselves.
Labeling others, wanting their own way or reluctance to practice independent thinking can get in the way of building these relationships, but with some effort and focus, they can accomplish this. Your role as a parent is to communicate regularly about their friends, guide them to be more accepting and encourage them to share their lives with others.
Friends are important to all of us and friendships made in school often cross the lines of the school days into the rest of our lives.