Help teens develop positive friendships

Positive friendships can encourage teens to care about people, meet higher standards and participate in constructive activities.

One of the most important supports of healthy adolescent development is positive friendships. Peer-to-peer relationships can encourage teens to care about people, meet higher standards and participate in constructive activities. Teens surrounded by supported, encouraging and trustworthy friends can work similar to a sports team that cooperatives to reach mutual goals. Teens who are involved with positive friends gain opportunities to develop “interpersonal competence.”

Interpersonal competence means having the skills to get along with and appreciate others. Teens need friends to help them gain knowledge about themselves and to learn about the uniqueness of others. A variety of friendships teach adolescents how to build successful relationships, handle conflict and contribute to the lives of others. Teens are bound to experience many joys and challenges among friends, but parents, caregivers and mentors can play an important role in understanding the positive and negative experiences. Although parents and caregivers cannot choose a teen’s friends, parents can help teens understand the values and skills that will help them form positive relationships.

As youth move into their teen years, friends and friendships (including dating relationships) move to a central place in adolescent life as a significant source of enjoyment and social learning. Most parents and caregivers want their adolescents to have good friendships, positive dating relationships and get along with others. The best relationships for teens are those based on mutual respect and caring. What teens need most from parents and caregivers is nonjudgmental guidance on how to build and maintain friendships.

Parents and caregivers should teach teens that real friendship involves two people who understand and respect one another, care and take responsibility for each other, expect good things for each other and solve problems together without blaming or manipulation. This guidance will help young people commit to those friends who share their values. Teens need to also understand that a relationship is harmful if one partner uses emotional or physical power to control or put down the other.

Parents and caregivers can provide firm moral guidelines, teach interpersonal skills, model positive behavior and support teens’ participation in healthy friendships. To learn more information on adolescent development and friendship go to eXtension and Search Institute.

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