Adolescence is a time of change, changes in one’s body, in one’s mood, and in one’s relationships. Helping teenagers form and maintain healthy relationships, especially with peers, is critically important because research has shown that teens who do not have good peer relationships tend to do worse in school and are at risk for behavior problems. Fortunately for us as parents, research also has shown that good relationships with parents are linked to good relationships with peers. Conflict resolution and intimacy, in particular, are skills learned and practiced within parent-child relationships that are invaluable with peers.
Developmentally, peer relationships become increasingly important in the teenage years. For teens who are successful socially, adolescence is often a time of growing autonomy and satisfaction. For teens who struggle socially, however, peer relationships can create a lot of distress and can lead to a wide range of mood, behavior and/or academic problems. There is a lot of guidance for parents on how to help school-aged children with their social skills and peer relationships. As children age, however, there is less clear advice on how parents can be helpful in their social development. Here are several tips for helping your teenagers create and maintain good relationships with peers:
1) Talk openly with your teen about what good friends are like and how to be a good friend. That also means discussing what behaviors make a “bad” friend, such as bragging, putting others down, or gossiping, and how to make good friend choices.
2) Actively teach and model skills in emotion regulation and conflict resolution. Teens who can regulate their behaviors and emotions are more likely to be viewed positively by peers and to have fewer problems in relationships. Similarly, the development of conflict resolution skills is thought to be a key to teens’ social development.
3) Rehearse and role-play ahead of time for different situations, ranging from handling teasing to holding conversations to responding to negative peer pressure.
4) It is important to know your teen’s friends. Encourage your teen to have friends over to your home so you can observe their interactions and get a sense of their social strengths/weaknesses.
5) Encourage participation in activities that offer opportunities for peer interaction. No matter what activity your teen participates in, from the debate club to the tennis team to Girl/Boy Scouts, teams and groups offer a structured opportunity to build relationships around shared interests.
6) Lastly, offer warmth, support, guidance, and attention to your teen (even when they seem like they don’t want it!) because warm and responsive parenting is the most consistent factor in predicting good social skills among adolescents.
Kelly H. Theis Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
* Some of the information above was adapted from the Child Trends Research Brief from July 2002, “Helping Teens Develop Healthy Social Skills and Relationships: What the Research Shows about Navigating Adolescence” by Hair, Jager, and Garrett.