8 Ways Parents Can Help Teens Navigate the Friendship Maze

Friendships are an important part of the social development of teenagers. For parents, it’s not easy to watch their teens grapple with the various dynamics of adolescent friendships. Bullying, peer pressure, toxic friendships, gossip and social media can all complicate matters and contribute to teenagers feeling stressed and anxious - all this while trying to figure out who they are, as well as manage hormonal and physical changes. As parents of a teenager, it’s important to understand how to support and empower your child when it comes to navigating the friendship maze.

Here are 8 top tips on how you can help your teen navigate the challenging dynamics of teen friendships in today’s world.

1. Listen

The first step in helping your teen navigate teenage friendship dynamics is to listen. It can be difficult for teens to open up about their friendships, but it’s important to create a safe space for them to talk without judgment. Encourage your teen to talk about their friends and the dynamics of their relationships. You can do this by asking questions and listening to their answers without trying to fix the situation or offer advice. This can help you to better understand what’s going on in their world and effectively support them. Being aware of their friendship dynamics when things are going well can also help you to understand the situation if conflicts arise.

2. Encourage Healthy Communication

Young people often struggle to communicate effectively with their peers, which has reportedly been exacerbated by the effects of lockdown. Therefore, it’s important to model and encourage healthy communication by teaching your teen how to express their feelings, listen to others, and resolve conflicts in healthy ways. Encourage your teen to confront difficult situations and show them how to negotiate with others.

3. Explore Values and Discuss Boundaries

Friends should respect each other’s values and boundaries, so it’s important to talk to your teen about these things and discuss what they would like to expect from their friends and friendships. Talk to them about how to say no when they’re uncomfortable and to steer clear of any actions that don’t sit right with them or align with their values. Remind your teen that they are in control of their own body and actions – regardless of the status quo.

4. Help Your Teen to Identify Toxic Behaviour

If your teen displays people-pleasing tendencies or is deeply caring of others, it could be tough for them to spot the signs of a toxic friendship. Toxic friendships can leave your teen feeling confused, unwell, or unsure of their position in the friendship. 

Some signifiers of toxic behaviour within teen friendships include:

  • Your child experiences constant drama and feelings of stress, unease or anxiety around a certain friend.
  • The friend is controlling, excludes others from the relationship, and gets jealous when your child spends time with others.
  • The friend is passive-aggressive with their compliments and criticism (think Regina George from Mean Girls), and behaves in a defensive manner.
  • The friendship is mostly one-sided, where the friend’s wants, needs, opinions and ideas are at the centre of all conversation and activities.
  • The friend is negative about others (often gossiping). 
  • The friend takes more than they give.
  • The friend is demanding and places pressure on your teen to do things they don’t want to do.

Gently remind your teen that being a good friend or person doesn’t mean they should put up with someone who doesn’t treat them well.

5. Encourage Assertiveness

The ability to be assertive and to advocate for oneself is a life skill that is essential in navigating friendships and relationships. If your teen learns and practises this skill, it’s something they can take with them well into adulthood. It’s important for your teen to know how to stand up for themselves and how to express their needs and feelings in a positive way. Teach them how to be direct and honest while also being respectful of others.

6. Encourage Positive Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem can lead to friendship problems, so it’s important to encourage a positive self-image in your teen. Help them to understand their own worth and remind them that they are valuable and deserving of healthy relationships with people who respect them and treat them with kindness.

7. Model Healthy Relationships

Teenagers often model their own relationships after those of their parents and immediate family. As a parent, you have influence and the opportunity to show your teen what a healthy, respectful relationship looks like by modelling positive behaviour in your own relationships. Some of these behaviours include:

  • Following through with plans and commitments to friends.
  • Not speaking about your friends behind their backs.
  • Modelling open, honest and kind communication.

8. Be Supportive

Finally, it’s important to support your teen as they navigate the friendship maze. Be there to listen and offer advice when needed, but also give them space to figure things out on their own. Sometimes it can help to simply ask questions that will help your child to arrive at their own conclusions about the friendships in their life. The best support is to remind them that you are there for them, no matter what.