Friendship is important at every age, but it has special significance during the teenage years. Friends help teens shape their identity, learn social skills, develop empathy, and feel a sense of belonging. Supportive friendships protect teens’ mental health against stress, depression, and even bullying. And even though teens may prioritize peers over parents at times, there’s a lot you can do to set them up for success. Here, we share five facts to support your teen in forming the friendships that help them thrive.
1. Turning towards friends is normal and healthy.
Every adolescent eventually begins to pull away from their parents and place more importance on peers. Clinical psychologist Daniel Siegel says teens are wired to turn to friends as a survival instinct, “because that’s who you’re going to depend on when you leave home… Connecting with a peer group can feel like a matter of survival.” While this phase can be tough for parents, remember that the social skills they’re building now support lifelong mental and physical health. “When you develop social skills during adolescence, your adulthood is going to be so much better,” Siegel says.
2. Friendships fortify teens’ mental health.
Besides setting teens up for future happiness, friendships also help them deal with present-day problems. One study showed that during the isolation and school closures of the COVID-19 pandemic, supportive friendships helped teens avoid internalizing stress. Another proved that friendships make teens less likely to be bullied or bully others. A third study found that close friendships help teens adapt to stress, have higher self esteem, be more assertive, and even perform better academically. Teens with good friends are armed with powerful protection against multiple factors that might harm their mental health.
3. Teens need parents as their friendships get more complex.
Friendship gets more complicated in the teen years, and keeping the lines of communication open makes it easier for them to come to you for support. To build trust with your teen, talk to them frequently about friendship. Model what it means to show up for each other, communicate clearly, and resolve conflict. Instead of automatically offering advice to your teen, try asking questions and listening more than you talk. Make sure they know your curiosity comes from care and not from a desire to control or make choices for them. This kind of communication may even bring you closer.
4. Getting to know your teen’s friends pays off.
Encourage openness by asking genuine questions of your teen’s friends, getting to know their families, supporting your teen and their friends in extracurricular activities, and making your home a welcoming, safe, fun space to hang out. When your teen knows their friends and friendships matter to you, they’re more likely to be open with you and ask for help when they need it. That said, it’s not always easy to know who your teen is spending time with. Experts say parents should be clear with teens about what you expect to keep trust intact. Ask your teen to work with you to create sensible ground rules for online and real-world connections that you can both agree to. And make sure to steer them towards putting real-world friendships first, since those are the best for developing social skills.
5. If it\’s hard for them to make friends, you can help.
Teens can struggle to make friends for many reasons, including changing schools, being introverted, or having a disability or health challenge. If your child is struggling, know that researchers say having just one or two close friendships can be just as good or better than having a large group of friends. Parents can help teens form connections, but be cautious not to make your teen feel like their social life is a problem to be fixed. Keep the focus on how much they have to give, not what they lack. Help them explore their passions through local clubs or online groups. Find resources like social media influencers, adult mentors, or teen support groups to help them see their differences as superpowers. Ask their teachers or school counselors to quietly observe what’s going on at school and make suggestions or provide resources.
Make sure your teen knows that making friends isn’t about changing to convince others to accept them; it’s about finding the people who love them just as they are. Those are the kind of friendships researchers say build the foundation for lifelong well-being.