One of the best one-liners about friendship I’ve heard is –
“Tell me who your friends are
and I’ll tell you who you are.”
As teenagers, our friends are our number one influencers. (Sorry, parents!) In these years of discovering our identity and defining our morals, friends play a huge role in the people we become. Here are some of the reasons why the friends we choose matter, and how you, as a parent, can play a role in the process.
- Friends influence our behaviors and attitudes…
Good behavior by peers can spread through the group. But bad company corrupts good morals. If your child is not yet firm in their identity, it can cause them to fall into negative peer pressure. I noticed that when I would spend time with some old acquaintances who curse, have low self-esteem, and are excessively sarcastic, I was apt do the same. On the flip side, when I hang out with my “squad” of encouraging people, full of integrity, it not only boosts my self-esteem, but also challenges me to consider the areas where I am lacking, and improve. It seems silly but whether it’s subtle or outright, teenagers will develop similar attitudes and mindsets as their peers. I love the Proverb, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.” No parent wants to see their child suffer harm, so here are some points of reassurance.
- Parents influence our choices and values…
The first thing you can do to encourage your teen in selecting good friends is assess and direct. I’ve been blessed with a wise mother who (after I had an established group of friends), told me, “I couldn’t choose your friends for you, but I could give you a nice pool from which to choose.” Good move, mom. Strategically sending your teen to impactful summer programs, like Camp iDENTIFY, gives them the opportunity to choose friends amongst a group of likeminded individuals with similar interests. This pre-selection can be applied to any area in your teenager’s life: work, sports, school, and clubs. The people I met there [at Camp iDENTIFY] have quickly become some of my closest friends. Parents, mentors, and friends, all help to shape us in some way or another but if we are not secure in our identities, we will be powerless to make good choices under pressure.
- The Thermostat/ Thermometer Theory…
A popular saying now is, “Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.” Let me explain; a thermometer reads the room temperature, but a thermostat sets it. Similarly, you want to raise your teen to set high standards for their group, not conform to low ones. “Meddling with children’s relationships has a high potential for backfiring,” Mitch Prinstein, director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina, says. “It can actually fuel rebellion.” Prinstein concluded that, “Helping your child develop a sense of identity and feel secure in that identity is probably the best antidote.”
- How do I achieve Thermostatus? (See what I did there… )
Encouraging your child in their natural gifts and finding opportunities for him or her to use them is a great first step. Highlight who they are and celebrate their small victories. Feel free to take every opportunity to share good and bad examples from your experiences with your friends. It’s nice to be reminded that our parents aren’t perfect. In fact, it makes you more interesting! Also, when you see good or bad behavior reflected in your teen’s friend group, you may want to emphasize the consequences of their choices. Give verbal approval when they choose well. But BE AWARE YOU DON’T COMPARE. (Nothing destroys a heart faster than being told it isn’t _____ enough.) Have some boundaries in place for getting to know your teen’s friends. You know your child. If they are easily influenced, suggest that they hang out with new friends at your house so you can assess and direct. Ultimately, keep communication open and trust available at all times.
Friend groups will be a major source of influence in your child’s life for the next few years. Enjoy this season with them and be ready to love them, regardless of their mistakes. If you take the tools you’ve been given and raise a thermostat, you won’t have to worry about trying to set the temperature again.