By Chris Croll
As we parents watch our children develop friendships at each age and stage, we find ourselves wondering which kids will be “friends for a reason,” which will be “friends for a season,” and which will be the coveted “friends for all times.” Here are a few characteristics to share with your children that define healthy teen friendships. (Psst…these pretty much apply for adults, too).
1.They are happy for your child’s accomplishments. As competitive as Northern Virginians are, true friends don’t compete with one another. If they do find themselves vying for the same opportunity (say a coveted summer internship), friends are just as happy for each others’ victories as they would be for their own.
2. There is a healthy give and take. The focus of the relationship shifts back and forth from one friend to another. Conversations aren’t always about the same person and the activities the kids engage in appeal to both of them.
3.They respect your child’s privacy. As teens break away from their parents and become more independent, friends become their primary confidantes. A true friend would never betray another friend’s trust. (The exception is when a friend shares that they are thinking about hurting themselves. Then it is important for them to tell an adult.)
4. Your child feels better after spending time with them. The biggest indicator of the health of a friendship is how your child feels after spending time with their friend. If they seem depleted or down, it may not be a healthiest friendship. The whole point of friends is to make life more enjoyable.
5. They include your child. If your child is routinely left out of parties, lunchroom groups and private jokes, the person may not be the best friend for them. Good friends are inclusive and always make room at the table—literally and figuratively.
6. They are available.In our too-busy kid culture here in Loudoun, many children are so scheduled that they don’t have time to invest in friendships. While these kids may be great people, if they don’t have time to be a good friend to your child, it can be a warning sign that maybe your child should look elsewhere for camaraderie. Another red flag is if the friend routinely cancels plans at the last minute.
7. Your child is not always the butt of the jokes. All friends rib each other from time to time but sometimes the gentle teasing goes too far. If the jokes are often at the expense of your child’s feelings, it may not be the best friendship for them.
8. They don’t pressure your child.Peer pressure is a part of every teen’s life, but good friends don’t pressure others to do things they don’t want to do. Ever.
9. They like the person your child is.Good friends see our child’s gifts and also accept their quirks. It’s normal for young people to squabble from time to time—especially with emerging personalities and fluctuating hormones. But children should feel valued and loved by their friends for who they are on the inside.
It’s important for teens to set boundaries like the ones outlined above but also to pick their battles—no friend is perfect 100 percent of the time. Most teens are still learning good friend behavior and it’s our job to coach our own children on how to be a good friend to others. If our children are lucky enough to have friends who embody the characteristics above, they might just have found some “friends for all time.”
Chris Croll is a parenting consultant specializing in educating and raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. She leads the National Center for Gifted Services and the nonprofit Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students, and is a member of the Loudoun County School Board.