Supporting your teenager with friendships, social identity, peer groups and online socialising

Teenagers Series Part 5: Supporting Teenage Friendships

This article explores the importance of teenage friendships, social identity, peer groups and online dating – giving parents tips on how to best approach areas of concern, provide support and guidance in a challenging and changing world.

In this article:

  1. Friendships
  2. Supporting teenage friendships
  3. Peers and friendship groups
  4. Peer influence

1. Friendships

During early adolescence and into the teenage years, you will notice your child’s friendships and peer groups becoming increasingly important to them.

The opinions of their friends will really matter, and they will be more likely to turn to these friends first, for advice when they have a problem or dilemma. Teenagers need their friends to share both the fun times and the tough times.

1.1 Social identity, friends, and peers

A significant feature of teenage development is their growing need to develop a sense of their own identity, as an individual outside of the family group.

They compare themselves to other young people, their own age, to see how they should behave, look and what choices they should make to fit in.

Having a sense of belonging and acceptance from their peers provides teens with the self-assurance they naturally seek at this age.

1.2 Why friends and peers important

Positive friendships:

  • Provide a sense of belonging and a feeling of being valued.
  • Help with developing confidence.
  • Provide security and comfort in being with others going through the same experiences.
  • Provide shared information about the changes that adolescence brings, both physically and emotionally.
  • Provide a base to experiment with different values, roles, identities, and ideas.
  • Provide strong protective factors against bullying and other risky or unhealthy behaviours.

1.3 Friendships online

Although teenagers typically point to their school as an important venue for making friends, day-to-day they are more likely to spend time with their friends online than in person.

Online friendships are a natural extension of teenagers’ face-to-face interactions, and this is seen as a normal part of friendships and communication for young people of today.

Older teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 are more likely than younger teens to start real friendships online, with social media and online gameplay the most common digital venues for meeting friends.

Online groups are another way teenagers connect and interact with a broad pool of people, who share common traits, interests and experiences.

Most teenagers say they use social media as a way to stay connected with the friends they already have, and that it makes them feel more connected to their friends’ feelings. It is clear mobile phones, social media, and online video gaming now play a central role in maintaining teenage friendships.

2. Supporting my teenager’s friendships

It can be hard for you to feel your child pulling away and preferring to spend more time with their friends.

Try to remember, this is an important step in their development and that with your support will set the foundation for your teenager to establish healthy and fulfilling friendships and relationships for their future, including with you.

As a father, you need to be both aware and sensitive to the increasing importance of teenager’s friendships.

You still can influence and direct your child’s relational decisions, but it is an influence that should be exercised carefully and with sensitivity.

By showing them you are supportive and understanding of their need for friends, you establish a good base for your own future relationship.

2.1 Top Tips for supporting teen friendships

  • Ask about your teenager’s friends, find out who they are and learn their names.
  • Invite your teenager’s friends into your home so you can talk and listen to them and introduce yourself to their parents.
  • Get to know the parents of your teenagers’ friends and open up regular communication with them.
  • Have casual conversations with your teen about friendships. Talk about topics such as:
    – “What makes a good friend?”
    – “What is the difference between being popular and being a good friend?”
    – “What does it mean to ‘look after’ your friendships.”
  • Encourage your teen to explore new friends outside of school through activities such as hobbies, sport, and music to expand their friendship groups.
  • Monitor you teenagers online social media use and time spent online. Make sure your teenagers are not socialising late at night.
  • Support opportunities and safe environments for your teenager to spending time with friends.

2.2 Changing friendships

Friendships often change as children move into their adolescent years.

The transition into secondary schools will have already thrown up challenges of maintaining and changing friends, and it can take time for some teenagers to find those young people they really connect with and are going to form close, healthy bonds with going forward.

As teenagers are developing and finding out more about their own identity, feelings, and abilities, they often start to mix with different people and groups among their peers.

You may find that as your teenager defines interests and future directions, they make new friendships with other teens with similar interests. That is not to say that all their friendships from when they were younger, will fall away, just that they may alter their circle of friends.

Sometimes as teenagers mature, they also discover that perhaps the friendships or groups they are in are not healthy or appropriate for them anymore.

They begin to make decisions about who they are going to want to mix with in their future and seek more like-minded young people.

2.3 Points for talking to your teenager about friendships

Here are a few points to remember when talking about friendships with your teenager:

  • It can take time to make a good friend. Friendships will build over time as they spend time together and communicate.
  • Honesty, care, and trust are important in a friendship.
  • If you want to have a good friend, you need to be a good friend. Think about how you would like to be treated as a friend.
  • You need to make an effort to have and keep good friendships. If you neglect them, they may fade.
  • Friends sometimes disagree with each other, but if there is conflict, they can always apologise and forgive each other.
  • It is okay for friends to outgrow each other. People change as they find new interests and mature.

3. Peer groups and friendship groups

Teenagers belong to peer groups who are people of similar status, usually of similar age.

A peer group among young people could be a class at school, members of a football or netball team or a group of friends.

Their friendship groups are usually developed from within these peer groups.

3.1 Healthy and unhealthy groups

Friendship groups can be healthy or unhealthy and it is important to be able to know the difference.

Being part of a healthy group has many benefits. When your teenager is in a healthy group, they usually feel comfortable with their group as opposed to feeling anxious, unhappy, worried, or nervous.

If the relationships in the group is healthy, they will always be happy to spend their time with this group, rather than feeling uncomfortable or having pressure, to join in or do things they don’t want to do. This also applies to their online groups.

4. Peer influence

Peer influence is pressure that comes from a peer or peer group. Peer influence encourages a person to change or maintain their attitudes, values, or behaviours to match to the other person/people.

Peer influence can be either negative (peer pressure) or positive (peer support). Teenagers are very sensitive to peer pressure because they want to fit in and be accepted by their peers.

4.1 Positive peer influence (peer support)

Often when we hear about peer influence, we think of peer pressure and the negative power, but peer pressure can be really positive and healthy for your teenager as well.

Teenage peer friendship groups can reinforce positive behaviours and attitudes as well. When they have a good core group of friends who look after each other and do the right thing, it can help keep them on track.

Positive peer groups care about each other, treat each other with respect and encourage each other to make good choices.

4.2 Negative peer influence (peer pressure)

One of the main reasons young people give in to peer pressure, is because they fear they will lose their friendships or not be accepted by the group.

Teens who feel isolated or rejected by their peers are more likely to engage in risky behaviours to fit in. In such situations, peer pressure can damage good judgment and encourage risk-taking behaviour, drawing a teenager away from the family and positive influences and luring them into dangerous activities.

Some teenagers will risk being grounded or losing their parents’ trust just to try and fit in with their peers. Sometimes, teenagers will change the way they dress, their friends, their values or create new values, depending on the people they hang around with.

4.3 Top tips for talking with your teen about peer influence

Have a conversation about healthy and positive friendship groups. Some key advice to include:

  • Going along with a healthy group of friends can be okay, as long as following the group doesn’t cause you to act without thinking about how you really feel about the situation yourself.
  • If peer influence is telling you to act in a generally positive way, to do something that feels right, or to do something that doesn’t hurt yourself or anyone else, it is will probably be okay.
  • If peer influence is telling you to do to do something you know is wrong, or to do something you feel uncomfortable about then you need to think carefully about your choices and decide whether it is really worth doing.
  • A good rule is, ‘If it makes you feel bad, it is probably bad for you.’

4.4 Teenage Friendship Choices

If you are worried about your teenager’s friendship choices here are some suggestions:

  • 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 teenager about their own behaviour and choices.
  • Encourage your teenager’s independence by supporting decision-making based on what they know is right for them.
  • Encourage reflective thinking by helping your teenager think about his or her actions in advance and discuss immediate and long-term consequences of risky behaviour.
  • Encourage your teenager’s independence by supporting decision-making based on what they know is right for them.

4.5 A parent’s supporting role

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

Your role is to always ensure your teenager knows that he or she is loved and valued as an individual at home and that you are always there for guidance and support.

Have you enjoyed this article? For more insight on social issues affecting fatherhood, check out our blog.

Teenagers Series on The Fathering Channel
This series has been designed to give an insight into the workings of the teenage brain and some tips to help to navigate parenting your teenager. These learnings are based on our research and years of experience supporting fathers and father-figures. But the fact is, everyone’s situation is different, so feel free to be creative, and adapt our wisdom to suit your circumstances. In this series we look at:

  1. Teenage brain development
  2. Communicating with your teenager
  3. Staying connected with your teenager
  4. Setting the boundaries with teenagers
  5. Teenager self-esteem and body image
  6. Teenage relationships, friends and groups

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