During the teen years our children’s friendships become increasingly complicated, volatile and important. Suddenly friends and friendships begin to mean everything to our teens, and when there are problems with those friendships it can feel utterly devastating.
Before the age of about 12, friendships are typically and loosely based on convenience, a shared interest, or simply because the child lives nearby. Proximity is a key element in who we befriend. But after about the age of 12, our children begin to seek greater intimacy and trust in their friendships. They are developing socially, cognitively, and physically, and they are looking to share that experience with other teens who are experiencing similar things.
Because of all the developmental changes occurring in their lives, teen relationships are often fluid, changing dynamically from year to year, month to month, and even day by day. That means that our children are likely to have several friendship issues as they work out their own identity, and as they mature emotionally, psychologically, physically, and socially.
While this is a common situation for all teens in all high schools, the feelings, emotions, and impact can be heightened within the boarding school friends environment. Teen friendships are the most important things to our children – and within the boarding school environment they become almost the only thing. Friends are like oxygen to teens, particularly in this environment.
But just because your child is boarding away, it doesn’t mean that you can’t help them when friendship problems inevitably arise (and they will). Here are four ways you can help your teen deal when problems arise with friends at boarding school.
4 Ways to Help Your Teen With Problems With Friends at Boarding School
When your teen is facing what can feel like devastating problems with friends at boarding school the most important thing that you can do is take time to listen. Unfortunately the last thing our teens will do (no matter how much they want to) is confide in us so it’s our job to make it easy for them to talk.
Luckily technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch regardless of the fact that they are boarding away during the school terms. One-on-one phone calls, Facetime, texting, and Facebook or WhatsApp messaging gives our teens ample ways to reach out. But we also need to let them know that we are there, we are available and we are ready to listen whenever and however they want. The key is to listen… and the best way to do that is to ask questions.
Sometimes teens dislike being asked questions about their lives. But the right kind of questions at the right time can help them navigate tricky friendship issues they might be facing. We need to recognise that they have the answers inside them. Then we can ask them gentle questions that help them see what those answers are and determine how to act. It’s important to remember to keep those questions judgement and recrimination free.
When your teen comes to you complaining about a friend, you can ask:
- How has this made you feel?
- How has it made your friend feel?
- What has it done to your friendship?
- Do you think this is how friends should act (or how friendships should be)?
- What’s the long game here? How will this look in a year if you stay in this situation?
- What do you see as the best way forward right now?
- What might happen if you take that approach?
Once you have listened, you can share your own thoughts and ideas if your child wants them. But if they don’t, understand that that’s OK, too. They’ll find the answers they need from inside themselves.
Research shows that teens’ relationships with their parents are important predictors of friendship success and competence. In other words, if a teen has a good relationship (generally) with his own parents, he will have good relationships with friends over the teen years and beyond.
This in no way eliminates friendship problems. But focusing on maintaining a good, solid relationship with your teen supports them in their ability to build relationships over the long term. This can be done even while your child is boarding in the same way you’d build any relationship. Be available and reach out to your teen. And when they’re home, make sure you spend plenty of time making memories together as well.
Encourage your teen to cast their friendship net widely. Gently suggest they participate in extra-curricular activities such as sports, music, art, an after-school job, or something else that will help them meet new friends they may share interests with.
Having a wide group of friends means that your teen is less dependent on the ups and downs of a single social group, and more able to find the support they need during difficult times.
Take Home Message
At the end of the day, positive friendships aren’t just a ‘nice to have’ – they are necessary for the healthy development of our teens. (And where you have teen friendships you will have teen friendship drama.) As parents we can offer support and guidance by being there, by listening, supporting, and asking the right kinds of questions. And, most importantly, we can support our teens by maintaining our own close relationship with them.