As our children enter the adolescent developmental period, they become increasingly reliant on relationships outside of the family unit. These relationships - with peers, romantic partners, teachers and workmates - help young people to develop important social skills such as conflict resolution, and can significantly impact on psychosocial wellbeing (Graber et al., 2016).
Peers in particular play a key role in identity formation during adolescence (Wildsmith et al., 2013). While friendships in earlier stages of adolescence may be motivated by a desire to 'fit in', later teen years tend to see more individuality and confidence in expressing personal interests and preferences (Graber et al., 2016).
As parents, it is vital to model and teach our children what it means to have healthy, positive relationships - that is, relationships that provide us with a feeling of being respected and cared for, and those characterised by trust, honesty and open communication. Research points to helping our children focus on the quality rather than quantity of these connections (Yang et al., 2016). Encouraging your child to develop positive relationships is important, not just for their immediate wellbeing, but also because positive friendships in the teenage years can serve as a foundation for successful adult relationships, including romantic ones (Allen et al., 2019).
Model relationships that offer warmth, respect, cooperation, allow for individualisation, healthy communication and conflict management.
If you notice that your child has difficulty with friendships and seems upset or distressed by this, you may consider the following:
- Open up a conversation, be transparent to its purpose and discuss the problematic behaviours with your child rather than use a blame approach, "I am aware of xyz behaviours and I would like us to talk about this and problem-solve together",
- Talk to your son about opportunities for him to connect with others, e.g., encourage him to invite friends home.
- Help your son to reflect on his interests and strengths as a foundation to start new relationships – for example, through a sport or other extracurricular activity
- Gently and sensitively ask your child whether there are particular challenges to forming new friendships, and consider speaking to your son’s mentor.
- Discuss managing relationships and role-play respectful conflict management ;
- Help your child to focus on himself, reflect on what he wants from the interaction "I want to feel honest, safe and content within my friendships. Next time I do not feel this way, I will address the issue or create some distance"
- Practice polite assertiveness with him, "that felt hurtful", "there was no need for that", "that made me feel uncomfortable".
- If assertiveness is difficult for your child at first, encourage him to practice an assertive inner voice that helps notice these responses.
- Encourage your child to engage in adaptive behaviour following awareness such as;
- Checking own behaviours - are my behaviours respectful?
- Help set new boundaries, "In class I would rather we didnt' talk about ... ", "Let's leave out that talk",
- Help him talk it out with his friend
- Encourage reduced contact or a hiatus from the relationship.
- Reach Out Resources:
- School TV resources:
- Raising Children Network:
- Knox Grammar School's Research Institute for Children and Adolescents (RICA):