Talking With Teens About Peer Relationships: How You Make a Difference
- Model healthy relationships with others. The #1 place where teens learn about relationships is in their families. What they learn from and experience with parents and siblings has a lot of influence on how they find and get along with friends.
- Maintain a positive relationship. When parents have positive relationships with their teens, their teens are more likely to form more positive relationships with their peers, including healthy romantic relationships. A positive parent-teen relationship is one that is warm, caring, and emotionally open while also setting boundaries and having high expectations.
- Encourage positive friendships. You can welcome your teen’s friends to your home, support them doing things together, and encourage participation in activities with positive peer groups, such as school activities, youth programs, and religious activities.
- Teach friendship skills. Help your teen learn to strike up a conversation with someone new, show empathy and support to a friend, listen and ask questions, resolve conflicts, set appropriate boundaries, and other skills that lead to positive, meaningful relationships with peers.
- Know your teen’s friends. Keep track of where teens spend time, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. Then you have the opportunity to ask questions or offer additional encouragement for the friendships, depending on the situation.
- Express concerns, ask questions, and set limits, when necessary. If you are uncomfortable with some friends and do not believe they are a positive influence, talk about your concerns with your teen, teaching him or her how to think about relationships. Be open and willing to listen to what your teen has to say about these friends, and also talk about what makes you nervous. It’s best not to forbid a friendship, unless it is putting your teen in danger.
- Create an inviting home for friends. Make your home a place where your teen’s friends like to hang out. (Snacks always help!) Get to know them while they are relaxed and open to conversation. If there are activities they want to attend together, offer to drive or supervise the outing.
- Don’t jump to conclusions based on appearances. Don’t judge your adolescent’s friends based on their dress, hairstyle (or color), appearance, interests, or other external factors. Remember that teens sometimes “try on” different identities and interests as a way of expressing their independence. Over-reacting with negative comments can make it less likely that friends will let you get to know them.
- Do pay attention to warning signs. If teens are hanging out with people who are much older, or if they are overly secretive about friends and what they are doing, monitor the situation more closely. Be less enthusiastic about these friendships, since your teen will sense your concern. If you have reason to suspect harmful activities (such as premature sexual activity, alcohol, tobacco, or other drug use), be assertive and clear about your concerns and your expectations.
- Connect with your teen’s friends’ parents. Get to know the parents or guardians of your teen’s friends. You will often find that they share your values and priorities and that you can work together to ensure that the friendships are positive for everyone.
- Practice peer pressure resistance strategies. Role-play different scenarios with teens so they have practice saying “no” in difficult situations. This strategy can help your teen be prepared and know how to respond when a sticky situation comes up. Focus on strengthening these resistance strategies:
- Get the person’s attention. Use the person’s name. Make eye contact. Say, “Please listen to me!” Just getting the person to stop and pay attention can shift the energy and momentum, making it easier to resist the pressure.
- State your “no” decision. Use “I” messages and a firm voice. Reinforce the decision with body language. You don’t have to get defensive or explain everything. A firm “No, I do not want to do that” shows confidence and commitment.
- Use self-control. Restate the “no” decision. Suggest an alternative subject, if appropriate. Or simply leave. Getting angry or arguing is rarely productive in the heat of the moment. Rather, your goal is to get away from the situation. If needed, discussing the issues can happen at another time when there’s less pressure.
- Recruit other help. Chances are that you’re not the only one who’s uncomfortable doing things that you believe are unsafe or wrong. Your stance will often be respected, and others may follow your lead. If it’s an ongoing situation, you can talk with others who share your perspective and come up with a strategy together.
- Try other ways to say “no". Use humor. Change the focus of the conversation. Reverse the pressure in a positive direction. Sometimes the humorous response defuses the situation, particularly if the humor follows a clear “no” statement.
- Share your perspective with your teen. When talking about a friend who you believe may be a negative influence, focus on the friend’s behaviors, not on his personality. For example, instead of calling your teen’s friend irresponsible for smoking, you could point out that the behavior has a negative effect on the friend’s health and recommend ways for your teen to help the friend quit.
- Set boundaries. Teens can want to spend all their time with their friends or with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Insist that they also spend time at home and meet their other responsibilities. Be sure your teen participates in family gatherings and events (potentially inviting a friend to come along sometimes).
- Investigate if your teen doesn’t have friends. Some young people are introverted and don’t want or need a lot of friends. But spending a lot of time alone and not having any friends can also be a warning sign that your teen is isolated or having trouble with peer relationships. Ask about it. Check with teachers or other school personnel to see if they have concerns. (Sometimes teens interact well at school, but need alone time at home.) Losing interest in friends for several weeks may indicate depression or other issues. You may also consider seeking help from a counselor if your concerns persist.
- Keep your relationship a top priority. When parents have positive relationships with their teens, their teens are more likely to form more positive relationships with their peers, including healthy romantic relationships. A positive parent-teen relationship is one that is warm, caring, and emotionally open while also setting boundaries and having high expectations. Even if you are concerned about friends and their influence, do not let your worries drive a wedge between you and your teen. Work hard to maintain your relationship, even while expressing your worries. When you express concerns, be sure to reinforce your love for your teen. Your influence will be greater in the long run if you do what you can to maintain a positive relationship.
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Content last reviewed on October 17, 2016