Chances are that if you are a parent of a teen, you pay attention to the quality of his or her friends. Observing teen friendships is a good way for you to gauge your teen’s mental and social health. Teen friendships are a key element to healthy development because they allow your teen to learn about the world and to form a unique identity.

Encouraging your teen to have positive interactions with peers can be more easily said than done, and how to approach this can be a mystery to many parents. Do you want the best experience possible for your teen as he or she grows up? Do you wish for your teen to communicate his or her boundaries in healthy ways in order to establish a safe and fun social life? Are you tired of teen drama? Are you hoping to develop and maintain healthy communication with your teen, as well?

These tools will help you achieve and maintain a healthy parenting role in your teen’s life when it comes to teen friendships and social boundaries.

The Five Tools for Supporting Healthy Teen Friendships

1. Make the distinction between a rule and a piece of advice. Setting clear rules and boundaries is ideal for a healthy relationship with your teen. Decide whether or not your suggestion for your teen’s behavior is in fact a rule (i.e. coming home before 11pm) or if it’s a piece of advice that he or she is free to leave or take (i.e. getting started on a project early instead of going to a party). This way, you can respond appropriately if your teen doesn’t listen: if it’s a rule, you can enlist a reasonable consequence, and if it’s advice, you can be a supportive listener as your teen learns from natural consequences. This supports your teen’s freedom to learn and chose, and allows you to keep a healthy level of influence on your teen as a parent.

2. Listen before offering advice. Give advice only when it is asked for, and only after you have fully listened to your teen so that he or she can feel valued and validated. Intervening in teen friendships or social situations can result in your teen feeling more helpless and less adequate to handle the situation. Do not get involved directly unless your teen feels unsafe, requests that you take action, and you believe that he or she is in fact not equipped to handle the situation alone at that time.

3. Stay aware of the big picture. The best way to do this is to consider the qualities that you want your teen to develop rather than the specific choices that you feel your teen must make. For example, qualities like the ability to make compromises, to communicate his or her own feelings even if they aren’t popular, or the confidence to walk away from a situation in which he or she feels uncomfortable. Learning how to create values requires some trial and error for your teen, which may be tough to watch as a parent. Staying aware of the big picture will help you know when to get involved and when to take a step back when it comes to teen friendship.

4. Embrace change. Social interactions are an important part of your teen’s growing up process for a wide variety of reasons. Teen friendships offer vital learning experiences about one’s self and one’s surroundings. As a parent, it can be challenging to find the balance between being overly involved vs. being too clueless about teen friendships. Expect that your teen will go through changes and will need more freedom. This will help you follow along side your teen supportively, rather than reacting in fear or confusion as your teen changes and grows. Your teen will feel that you are available to talk about struggles with friendships if you are able to embrace chances that he or she is experiencing as a growing teen.

5. Stay on your teen’s side. Teen friendships can be filled with ups and downs, and even though you may not always agree with your teen’s choices, it’s vital that you consistently show your teen that you support him or her. When he or she makes a mistake, you can be the first person to be there – not to “fix it,” but to offer your support and to remind your teen of your faith in him or her. If you are confident that your teen can work through an issue, and if you are present throughout the ups and downs, you will experience the joy of watching your teen learn and grow into a capable adult.

Although teen friendships can cause stress, it’s possible that what your teen is dealing with is more serious than hormonal turbulence or social drama. Don’t hesitate to consult with a mental health professional if your teen exhibits any behavior that concerns you, or if he or she displays signs of severe hopelessness, self-doubt, or persistent worries.

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