Healthy and positive friendships are important all through life, but as our children transition into their early teens, strong friendships become an important part of their journey into adulthood. Friends help children learn about themselves and recognise the uniqueness of others. A variety of friendship experiences enable children to build successful relationships, social skills and deal with conflict. Importantly, as children move through their teens, parents play a central role in supporting and encouraging positive friendships.
According to the Raising Children Network, “Good parent-child relationships tend to lead to positive relationships with peers. So being warm and supportive, staying connected and actively listening to your child can help with the development of friendship skills.” While friendships – including relationships with the opposite sex – will become central in a teenager’s life, parents and friends take on different roles. “Parents tend to influence your child’s long-term decisions to do with values and morals. Your child’s friends are more likely to influence short-term choices, such as appearance and interests.”
Positive relationships help teenagers grow into well-adjusted adults with strong social skills. Let’s look at how you can encourage positive friendships for your children:
- Be a good role model. Healthy friendships are characterised by mutual care, respect, honesty and compassion. Let your children see you looking out for your friends; talk about your own friendships and why you like spending time with those friends.
- Invest in your children’s friendships. Make sure your child is comfortable having friends over, and when they do, give them space in your home. Spend time getting to know their friends by offering to pick them up/drop them home after sporting and social outings.
- Praise positive social traits. When you see your teenager being a good friend – fair, supportive etc. – rather than just accepting the behaviour, praise and encourage them to keep working on those traits and build their self-esteem.
- Help children recognise an unhealthy relationship. Not all friendships will be good for children. Sometimes these are called ‘toxic friendships’. Help your children understand that acts of manipulation, jealousy, negative attitudes and dishonesty are destructive to a healthy, positive friendship.
- Teens learn through personal experience. You won’t always approve of your child’s friends, but part of growing up means making mistakes. Try not to be too hard on your child if they make a bad friendship choice – every social interaction helps your child understand the uniqueness of others and improve their social skills.
- Friendships online are different from ‘real-life’ relationships. Social networking forms a big part of the social identity of many young people. Social media and chat channels provide excellent opportunities to connect easily and a chance to talk about sensitive issues without fear of being judged. Parents have a role to play in helping children understand they need to be very careful about who they become friends with online.
It is natural for parents to want their children to have positive friendship experiences, particularly during their early teens. Resist the urge to constantly ask your child about their friendships and give them lots of encouragement and praise to build their self-esteem.
At Esperance Anglican Community School, our small size allows for the development of a close-knit, safe and supportive community. We seek to work closely with parents to help our students develop good relationships, especially when circumstances have caused stresses and strains in the past.
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