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Navigating the Ups and Downs of Friendships

Navigating the Ups and Downs of Friendships

When my kids were little, their closest friends were the children of my closest friends. Life was simple when I knew and trusted their friends and their friends’ parents. Now, my kids mention friends I’ve never met before, and I know that friendships can begin and end on social media without ever having any face-to-face interactions. It almost makes me miss the “simpler” days of my childhood when social groups changed only as fast as you could dial the phone or write a note on paper. Although life feels more complicated these days, I have to remember I’m doing my best to teach my kids tools to handle the ups and downs of their social relationships – and then trust they’ll be able to use those tools when the time comes.

This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 14 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at calparents.org/classes.

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Dear Child Parent Institute,

My 12-year old daughter has been spending a lot of time alone lately. Her usual group of friends has become more interested in social media, shopping, and watching YouTube videos (and who knows what else) – and my daughter isn’t interested in any of that. It doesn’t seem to bother her to be alone, but I haven’t heard her talk about making new friends either. Should I be worried?

Jamila

Dear Jamila,

That’s a good question, and it’s important that you’re noticing changes in your daughter’s social life. As kids grow older, their social groups often change as they develop different interests and meet new people. It’s possible that your daughter naturally grew apart from her usual group of friends, and it may just take time to form new friendships. Or, this change could be a sign that something else is going on and your daughter could use support. Here are some tips to try:

Have a casual conversation with your daughter. Ask about activities or hobbies she’s interested in and the people she spends time with online or face-to-face. Listen for signs that her interests – and therefore her social group – may have changed by her choice, or listen for signs that she feels left out and left behind by her friends.

Ask how she feels about the changes in her friendships. Tell her you’ve noticed she’s been spending less time with her usual group of friends and you’re wondering how she feels about it. Ask open-ended questions to encourage her to share her thoughts and feelings – “How do you feel about spending less time with those friends?” – then gradually ask more specific questions to gauge whether your daughter feels there is a problem  – “Did something happen that changed the friendships?” or “Do you wish you were still close to them?” 

Watch for clues about how your daughter is coping with changing friendships. If she becomes upset or talks about being isolated and lonely, then ask her what she would like to do and if she wants your help. Hold off on giving advice or solutions unless your daughter asks for it. Instead, try asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?”then let her answers guide your actions. If your daughter seems interested in other people and activities but says she just outgrew her old friends and needs some time before making new ones, then let her know you’re there if she needs someone to talk to. Keep having casual conversations about her interests and social life and offer help if she asks for it.

Encourage your daughter to form new friendships. Even if your daughter enjoys being alone, she might still need some support and encouragement to meet and make new friends. If she’s not sure where to start, help her identify her strengths and interests, then look for activities that provide an opportunity to meet people with similar interests. This can help start new friendships and build social skills. 

FINAL THOUGHTS: Navigating the ups and downs of friendships is hard for many kids (and adults), especially in the midst of physical and hormonal changes and pressure to project an image of the “perfect life” on social media. With support from caring adults, children and teens can learn important social and emotional skills, like expressing their feelings, staying true to their values, and dealing with disappointment or rejection. Although adolescence eventually ends, the importance of having positive relationships never goes away.

Sincerely, 

Child Parent Institute

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