False friends can tear a teen's life apart. Real friends can enhance their lives forever. Both options are ever present in a teen's world. Five qualities make all the difference.
I've worked in the field for many years and have sat across from many teens. In that time, and after much digging, I've discovered that the friendships that enrich my clients' lives are built upon five common qualities. By teaching your kids early on the importance of these traits, chances are they'll avoid those false friendships and hold tight to the ones that truly matter.
Quality #1: Loyal
The best of friends are the ones who stick by your side, in good times and bad. And, as we all know, there can be times of high drama flowing through the halls of high school. The tension my clients feel when they're unsure of their friends' loyalty can be overwhelming, forcing them to watch their words, look over their shoulders, and walk with worry. If your teen has in her midst a friend who has proven to be loyal, she has a friend worth her weight in gold.
Quality #2: Trustworthy
So much of the pain experienced during adolescence stems from the unfaithful friend, the gossip who steals your secrets and spreads the word like wildfire. This makes the quality of trustworthiness all the more important. With our heads overflowing with thoughts and feelings during our teen years, we desperately need a safe outlet in which to share. We need someone to go to, openly, free of the fear that our innermost thoughts may soon be common knowledge. If your teen has a friend he can trust, he has a friend to follow.
Quality #3: Honest
The truth can hurt, but sometimes that is exactly what we need. The biological need for acceptance is so strong that teens often stick to a script of agreement; whatever is said, whatever is decided, we all agree it's the right thing. It doesn't take long to see how this type of thinking can get kids into a great deal of trouble. The teen who stands against the group and says what he truly feels is a rare teen indeed. And that's precisely what every teen needs--a friend who speaks the truth, even when that truth is hard to hear. It's a guard against the terrible decisions teens are prone to, especially when every other voice is in agreement. If your teen has a friend who is honest, he should hold tight to that friend.
Quality #4: Sympathetic
Ever share a deep thought with a friend who has his face glued to the screen in his hand? How about a friend who sets all distractions aside and truly listens with their entire mind and body? Quite a different experience, isn't it? One leaves you feeling ignored and insignificant while the other leaves you feeling heard and validated. Teens experience these same feelings in their relationships, all the while fighting through a sea of distraction far greater than anything we encountered at the same age. This makes the quality of a sympathetic listener even more important to your teen. If she has a friend who knows how to listen--truly listen--she has a friend worth sticking by.
Quality #5: Engaged
A friendship whose entire life exists on Facebook or Snapchat isn't a friendship at all. It's a loose acquaintance, a poor imitation of an authentic relationship that fails to satisfy within us the deep-seated need to form real bonds with those around us. Quality time, shared experiences, distraction-free conversation...these are the building blocks of a rewarding friendship, building blocks that disappear when a digital connection is the only connection we have. If your teen has an engaged friend, someone who takes the time to share in-person experiences, he has the making of an authentic friendship that faithfully fulfills the definition.
As teens, we were desperate for connection, so much so that we often latched onto even the hint of a friendship, whether the qualities above were present or not. This is too risky a game to play with such an important part of your teen's life. Instead of haphazard connections, help your kids form rewarding friendships by guiding them toward bonds built upon loyalty, trust, honesty, sympathy, and engagement.