We all know friends are an important, if not the most important, part of being a teenager. All adolescents crave acceptance into their peer groups. It’s a normal part of growing up and we’re biologically hardwired to gravitate to others our own age. During adolescence, our brains change from the spongy, absorb-everything-mode of childhood to the realisation that we are capable of thinking about things. Which is why schools, with their herds of adolescents, are such a socially important part of our growing up.
As our teenagers begin to experience new challenges in their lives, they will naturally gravitate towards others who also think about these challenges in the same way as they do – challenges like changing schools, learning to drive, dating, creating a new ‘look’, dabbling in alcohol and drugs. These are a bridge into their adult world and their preferred learning environment is off each other. (For tips on best teenage-parent communication click here.)
Let’s set aside those other challenges and look at the issue of school. Schools are institutions that transfer knowledge. Academic knowledge and social knowledge. If your teenager is away from school, we as parents all worry about the work they have missed. But it would be more sensible to wonder about the peer group dramas they have missed. These are the glue that hold your teenager’s attention at school.
Social changes can lead your adolescent to second guess themselves, and in a bid to stay small they turn inwards. Focusing on the fear of embarrassing themselves or being made fun of, instead of looking to be part of the fun. What if your teenager’s activity of choice is to go to the library at lunchtime so they don’t have to mix with their peers? It seems like a responsible, mature move. In reality, it may not serve them in the long run. Loneliness is one of the barriers to happiness and contributes significantly to anxiety and depression. And statistically, it is our adolescents who are most affected by loneliness.
As a parent, it’s your job to encourage your teenager to make friends. And it’s even more important if your teenager is lonely. If your teenager is choosing to self isolate, this may be a pivotal action for you to take, one that changes the course of your teenager’s life.
How do you make friends, especially when you’re feeling socially awkward?
- Physiology – the way you hold yourself. Be open in your posture. Stand tall. Head up, look around yourself. Pull your shoulders back. Keep your arms relaxed and your palms open. Smile. Make eye contact with individuals. This alone can be an enormous first step.
- Say, “Hi, how are you?” Ask about the other person’s weekend, their school work, their first impressions of wherever you happen to be. Have a few standard questions to keep the attention off themselves and see how others respond. Teach your adolescent that other people love to talk about themselves, and help them become good listeners so they are valued as friends.
- Encourage your teenager to bring their friends home if that is possible. Keep the pantry and fridge stocked with teenage friendly food – the ingredients to make pizza – and let them hang out with their friends while they make their own pizza (and clean up). Tip: make yourself scarce during this time.
What you do and say as a parent makes an enormous difference in the life of your adolescent, both now and into their future. Leaving your adolescent to ‘sort it out’ may not be your finest parenting move. The sooner you notice a problem and support your adolescent to work through that problem, the easier it is to sort itself out.
Now that you’ve read through this article, and decided to learn more on your adolescent’s behalf, click here to book an exploratory call with me.