Help your teenager make great friends

Guy and girl sitting on couch laughing
Guy and girl sitting on couch laughing

Guy and girl sitting on couch laughing

It’s common for teenagers to prioritise their friends over their family. These friends can have a significant impact on your child’s self-esteem, the activities they engage in, and the attitudes they develop. So how can you guide your child towards choosing friends that keep their well-being and self-esteem intact, while managing those that may not be a good influence?

Feeling accepted by peers is a fundamental emotional need during adolescence. Friends provide emotional security, comfort, understanding and a sense of protection. They’re also a testing ground outside of the family to explore social skills, intimacy, values and attitudes.

Parents and friends play very different roles in the life of a teenager. Friends tend to inspire new ideas and minor short term changes, while parents provide a secure base and tend to influence values and morals in the longer term.

How you can guide your child towards positive friendships?

Ultimately the friends that your child chooses are their decision, but as a parent you can help them to make better choices along the road to adulthood, and to also recognise when they’re friendships might be hindering rather than helping them.

Some ways to encourage positive friendships:

  • Help your teenager to understand that positive relationships are based on honesty and allow them to relax and be themselves while feeling supported and respected. They don’t involve pressure, blame, manipulation or jealousy.
  • Teach your child about good qualities in friends – when peers display positive behaviours, open up a discussion about it. Talk about how friendships change as they get older, and their role as a friend in listening, supporting, respecting and understanding one another.
  • Provide social opportunities that focus on their strengths and interests to keep them relaxed and confident. Meeting through clubs, sporting or youth groups to do with a common interest is a good foundation for a new friendship. The internet can be useful to give socially awkward teens some confidence, but shouldn’t replace real life friendships.
  • Maintain a caring, open and positive relationship with your child, and set an example by modelling good friendships. Let your child see that friendship is a two way street that requires some effort and nurturing. As a result of you doing this, your child will tend to have healthier friendships and intimate relationships in the future.
  • Be available to help, while encouraging them to develop good judgement through their own experience.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that girls will build friendships better through conversation, while boys bond more through shared activities. 

How do I help my child handle negative peer relationships?

When faced with a negative influence consider trying to:

  • Talk to your child about what concerns you, rather than attacking the personality of the friend. Try something like 'I’ve noticed you feel really nervous when he comes to our house.' Be very careful about the way you handle a negative influence, as teenagers are generally defensive of their choice of friends.
  • Resist the urge to ban friendships unless they’re displaying behaviours that put your child at risk. Much closer monitoring of the relationship may be a better approach.
  • Get to know their friend – looks can be deceiving, and maybe your concerns are unfounded. The key is to be friendly and interested without being nosy. Set some boundaries around the big issues like alcohol, drugs and sex within your home while still making it a welcoming and nurturing environment with respect for their privacy.
  • Offer an alternative friendship group by giving opportunities to socialise elsewhere. Your child may need to establish another relationship before they can let go of the bad friendship.

Taking these steps will show that you understand the relationship is important to your child. If it still ends badly, at least they’ll feel like you were reasonable and made an effort to understand them. 

Page last review by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on