Lots of good things happen during the teen years. Adolescents no longer believe that that they will get a nasty case of cooties from the opposite sex, right? And, most teens feel comfortable talking to their opposite sex peers;right? Nope. Not always. Often they feel awkward, shy and just plain clumsy.
Listen -- not every teen boy is lucky enough to have sisters to learn from. Likewise, not every teen girl is lucky enough to have brothers who teach them to be comfortable around males. It's a shame because having siblings of the opposite sex can increase comfort levels and provide insight into the minds and ways of the other sex.
There are so many reasons why it is healthy for your teens to befriend opposite sex peers. Let me begin explaining why and then feel free to add on to this list:
1. Teens learn a lot about how the opposite sex thinks and feels from their opposite sex peers. They get an education. And, boy what a wonderful education your kids can get for free. When your sons are unsure how to approach a girl, when they are wondering whether or not she might accept their invitation to a dance etc. they can turn to their female friends for invaluable insight. And, the likelihood that they will suffer rejection and read cues inappropriately decreases. I have seen this happen over and over again.
2. Male teens can become increasingly comfortable with females if they label them as friends rather than as potential girlfriends. Anxiety will decrease. The same is true of the females. When there is no hidden agenda, no pressure to date and no expectation of anything other than a lovely friendship they can focus in on paying attention to the perspective of the opposite sex. This is yet another positive and incidental side effect of these relationships.
3. Sometimes females need a break from the drama of their girlfriends and and yes their male friends should be right there so they can tap into a different behavioral style and get a break. Similarly, males often need someone to sort out their feelings with. This is where a female friend can step in and help them disentangle and label their sensitive feelings and get some guidance about how to handle situations.
4. All throughout life we will be interacting with the opposite sex on many levels and in many arenas. It is never too early to encourage our kids to mix up their friend group. This should be considered yet one more aspect of their high school education.
So, what ate the pitfalls here?
1. Certainly, the friends can fall for each other. Nothing wrong with that. What's better than starting out as friends?
2. One member of the pair may fall for the other and the feelings may not be reciprocated. This will likely lead to feelings of rejection and frustration but the hope is that within the context of a good friendship these feelings can we discussed and worked through. We all need to learn how to have these tricky conversations.
3. Girlfriends and boyfriends may get jealous of these friendships. If so then perhaps the jealousy should be considered thoughtfully and may speak volumes about the boyfriend/girlfriend in a not so positive manner. Jealousy is not necessarily healthy at high doses as we all know.
The pros of opposite sex friendships are just too fabulous compared to the pitfalls. So, the next time your son or daughter talks about a friend don't assume that they are both males or females. In fact, encourage a variety of friendships. It's part of your job.