5 Ways to Lead Your Teen Toward Healthy Friendships
Ask your teen what they are most looking forward to as they go back to school, and you are likely to hear something about being with their friends. While teens today have umpteen digital options for staying connected with their friends throughout the summer break, there is simply nothing quite like being in the same place and having shared experiences. And as they are filled with that eager anticipation for reconnecting with their favorite peeps, parents are often filled with anxiety. Whether you are concerned about your teen hanging with the wrong crowd, struggling to make close friends, spending too much time with that one “bad seed,” or simply looking for ways to encourage good friendships, here are a few basic tips for parents that can help you influence your teen’s friendship building activity in healthy ways:
1. Have a welcoming home. Invest the effort and money to make your home inviting for your teen’s friends. The best place for you to impact the friendships of any of your kids is right in your own home. If you don’t have a pool, consider converting your garage or a bedroom into a game room with a ping pong table, foosball, or pool table. Have a great video gaming setup in a fun part of your house. Keep good snacks (ask your kids for help with this – not the clerk at Whole Foods). And most importantly, make sure your kids and their friends feel genuinely welcome, respected, and cared for as individuals. They need to feel comfortable in your home, and just spending time around you.
2. Stay aware of their social media activity. Whether your teens are into Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, or whatever with be the cool new thing in a couple months, you need to maintain an active awareness of which sites and apps they are into, how they are using them, why they like using them, and who they are “hanging out” with in each virtual space. This doesn’t mean policing their every move. Trust me. That won’t work out well for all involved. But it does mean taking the time to regularly look for yourself at what their social media presence and activity looks like, and talking with them about it regularly. These conversations should be a mixture of curiosity, respect, and authority on your part. I will continue to offer more specific guidance in this area via blog posts and local parenting seminars.
3. Take time to ask and listen. One of the best ways to influence anyone, including your own teen, is to take time to ask questions about THEM with genuine curiosity, and to listen with respect. As parents, especially once our kids become teens, it is so tempting and easy to stay in lecture mode WAY too much. Yes, there is a place for authoritative correction and drawing boundaries. But never forget this little nugget: Your teens don’t care how much you know…until they know how much you care. They need to know we care about them and what they care about. That we aren’t just interested in their compliance – we are invested in their life development.
4. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Given the first three tips I’ve shared with you, please don’t mistake me for telling you to simply be good buddies with your teens. They have those at school and church and wherever they hang out. They need you to be a parent. And that means loving them from a position of authority and setting clear boundaries. While your rules should change and grow as your children age and mature, they still need to have rules, guidelines, and consequences to help lead and shape their choices. They may think they have it all figured out, and that you are just a big idiot, but I sincerely doubt either of these is really true.
5. Become fluent in their language and favorite activities. Don’t go overboard. You don’t have to become totally fluent in “teenese” or a master in the latest version of whatever’s cool on the XBox. But learn enough to actively participate in conversations and activities with your teens and their friends when they welcome you. It’s not about whether or not YOU like the activity or even feel comfortable with the lingo. It’s about intentionally showing YOUR TEEN and their friends that you care about them and their world – and that you care enough to be a part of it.