One major aspect of schooling that helps to promote a teen’s development is the socialization that school provides. In no other realm would adolescents have hours of interaction with diverse groups of peers and adults on a daily basis. Learning alongside peers also benefits the development of teens’ social skills—not only do teens learn appropriate interactions at school, but they also learn other vital skills such as compromise, collaboration, perspective-taking, empathy, etc. So, recognizing that social skills are critical to education, how can we encourage building and maintaining strong social circles at the high school level?
Encourage acceptance. This may sound simple, but building acceptance and understanding among peers, especially teenagers, can be a tricky undertaking. Have open discussions about the importance of diversity, individuality, and differences among friends. The more accepting high schoolers are, the more open they will be to befriending someone new. Not only are these conversations important for families to have with their teens, but rather they also help to teach young adults the value of acceptance and compromise—two vital qualities for college and career readiness.
Remind your high schooler that popularity should not come at the price of making genuine friends. Again, easier said than done. However, hard lessons about friendship often revolve around the supposed need to be “in the right crowd.” The adolescent years are difficult in terms of willingness to stray from the group. However, teenagers can only benefit from making connections with others. The idea of “the more, the merrier” certainly applies here. Being friends with others does nothing to take away from core friendships. Remind your teen that it is normal to have different or varying social circles. He or she should feel comfortable having family friends, neighborhood friends, sports friends, and more. Furthermore, remind your teen that to have a good friend, one must be a good friend.
Branch out when selecting or joining new extracurricular activities. Encouraging your teenager to try new things will not only broaden his or her horizon, rather it can also broaden his or her number of friendship groups. Your adolescent may want to try developing a new skill or hobby. Perhaps he or she could participate in a new art class, dance class, swim club, or tennis camp. These opportunities allow your teen to interact with and get to know new peers—peers he or she may not get to meet otherwise.
Discuss your own memories of friendships with your teen. Talk about how some of your friendships have stood the test of time, while others may have dissipated. Explain that it is normal and somewhat likely that some friendships will be fleeting. Depending on circumstances, friends come and go; some are relationships of convenience, not true compatibility. While discussing your own experiences with friends, model what it looks like to be a truly genuine friend. Puberty, confidence, self-consciousness—all of these transitional moments can make it difficult for teens to foster strong, authentic friendships. The more your teen understands what it looks like to be a good friend, the easier he or she will be able to meet new peers and maintain strong friendships. Ask him what he looks for in a “good friend.” Explain how he can take these positive traits and apply them to himself to ensure that he is treating his peers the way that he would like to be treated. Talk about the importance of honesty and loyalty. Make sure that your teen knows how to keep someone’s trust, be a good listener, and offer support when his friend needs him.
Avoid putting too much emphasis on the term “best friend.” Often times, teens can become caught up in the terminology. It may be because of a competitive desire to be “the best friend,” or because of the “cliquish” atmosphere that occurs during the teenage years. But, either way, a friend is a friend. Remind your teen that, just like she has other friends, her own friends have other friend groups as well. This does not mean that she should feel threatened or left out.