6 Ways to Help Your Teen Make and Keep Great Friends

A woman dries dishes while teen friends talkFriendship—that close connection with another person which allows us to feel valued and cared for—is vital at any stage of life. The need for love and belonging has long been established as one of our basic needs as human beings. And it has been well documented that having strong, healthy relationships improves our self-esteem and overall well-being. As valuable as these connections are, however, they do not always come easily or naturally, particularly for adolescents.

We’ve all known the charismatic, outgoing teenager who is friends with everyone and approaches social situations with ease and grace. We’ve also known the awkward, insecure teenager who struggles to connect with people and becomes more withdrawn with each friendship that crashes and burns. While some of it has to do with personality and development, it is just as important to remember that just like so many aspects of adolescent development, making friends is a skill that can be learned.

If it seems like it was easier for your child to make friends when they were young, you’re right. When kids are little, most of their friendships are cultivated and managed by adults. Parents set up “play dates,” organize the activities, and manage any conflict that pops up. Parents also plan birthdays and other parties, and manage the invitations, gifts, and RSVPs to make sure everyone is included.

The good news is making friends boils down to a series of skills that can be learned.

As kids become teens, these friendships start to shift and evolve. As is true with so many things about middle school, teens become more independent and start making choices for themselves, so it makes sense they also become more independent in managing their friendships. Some kids handle this transition effortlessly, while others struggle mightily with making and keeping friends. And those friendship struggles can lead to a lack of confidence and feeling disconnected and vulnerable at a crucial time in their development.

The good news is making friends boils down to a series of skills that can be learned. And as with any new skill, becoming proficient at friendship requires some self-awareness, some guidance, and practice. Here are some tips for helping your teen improve their friendship skills:

  1. Invite your teen to do some reflecting. Ask them, “What qualities do you have that would make people want to be your friend?” And more importantly, “How do people know that about you? How do you let people see what you value, what’s important to you, and who you really are?” Rather than just looking around for someone with common interests, helping teens become clear about who they are and what they value allows them to attract friends who will be a good fit for them.
  2. Remind your teen that not every acquaintance will become a BFF. Teens who struggle with making friends tend to latch onto the first person who shows them meaningful attention. They may share too much personal information too soon, and they may become jealous and insecure when their new best friend has other friends. Help your teen work through the difference between a friend you sit next to in class and chit-chat with, and a friend who really understands and values you.
  3. Teach your teen how to engage in conversation. Small talk is a learned skill. It doesn’t come easily for everyone. It is particularly difficult for teens who are more introverted. Practice having light, casual conversations about easy topics such as music, activities outside of school, or homework. Help them learn how to keep it positive, and promote the value of listening more than they speak.
  4. Help your teen understand that conflict is a natural part of relationships. Even the best of friends are going to have fights, but not every argument means the end of a friendship. Help them work on fighting fair and knowing when to take a break from an argument to cool off. Particularly when it comes to social media, where misunderstandings are common and conflict can quickly get out of control, teach your teen the value of saying, “I think we’re both really upset. Let’s talk about this in person tomorrow.”
  5. Be aware of your own judgments and opinions. If you don’t like your teen’s new friend and you believe your reasons are valid, be thoughtful about how you bring it up. Opening a conversation with, “Tell me what you like about hanging out with her” may be much better received than the more obvious, “I don’t like her! She’s a brat!” And if you feel the need to criticize your teen’s friend, be sure to be specific about the behaviors you don’t like. For example, “I’ve noticed she cancels plans with you at the last minute a lot” opens up a much healthier conversation than, “I don’t like her. She’s so selfish and disrespectful!” Your teen values your opinion much more than they will ever let you know, so if you notice them being treated badly by a friend, by all means speak up. Just make sure you do it in a way that is likely to be heard.
  6. Help your teen foster other relationships. The need for connection and belonging extends beyond friendships with peers. Make sure your teen feels connected to you and other adults in their life. When teens have solid, healthy relationships in their lives that they can count on unconditionally, it becomes much easier to endure the roller coaster of adolescent friendships.

Friendships during the teen years can be so important and fulfilling. Having someone to lean on, share secrets with, and let loose with makes life better at any age. If your teen is struggling with friendships, remember that it is not a lost cause. Make sure your connection with them is strong, and guide them toward the skills they need to make the kinds of friends that will serve them well.

References:

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, February 5). Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2002). Making and keeping friends: A self-help guide. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Making-and-Keeping-Friends-A-Self-Help-Guide/SMA-3716

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  • 39 comments
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  • Abigail

    Abigail

    July 2nd, 2016 at 8:14 AM

    I am so thankful that over the years my daughter has made and maintained some really close friendships. Now she has had some run ins with some bad ones too, don’t get me wrong, but for the most part she has a great group of core friends and I can say right now that I see these girls mostly staying friends for a number of years. It is just so easy these days, much easier than we had it, what with technology and social media. I guess there really is no reason to lose touch with someone unless you are purposely wanting to do so.

  • Ame

    Ame

    April 15th, 2017 at 9:25 PM

    Not to be mean, but your comment is out of place here. I searched on this to find help for my teen who is struggling for friends and one of the first comments I see is you saying that you are so fortunate that your teen doesn’t have this issue and it’s so easy. If it were easy, this article wouldn’t be necessary. I find your comment to be exceedingly tone deaf.

  • Chirstina

    Chirstina

    September 26th, 2017 at 9:07 AM

    I agree. It is very out of place. We came to this article because someone we know might be struggling. It’s great that you are so fortunate but this isn’t the place to voice it.

  • Carrie J.

    Carrie J.

    July 2nd, 2016 at 8:39 AM

    Help me please… I’m worried about my 17 yr.old & my 14 yr. old…. Self-esteem issues, confidence ,finding friends,etc. 😞

  • doug

    doug

    July 4th, 2016 at 9:07 AM

    We have always wanted to be the house where everyone hung out and I think that this has helped our kids sort of understand what the boundaries of their behavior should be but also gives them as well as the other kids they are friends with a place where they can feel safe while they are having fun.

  • Lauren

    Lauren

    July 5th, 2016 at 7:55 AM

    I have witnessed so many parents over the years who have tried to force friendships on their children or even force their kids on others. That is not the way real friendships work. I know that there are times when your kids are friends with your friends kids for convenience but for them to have those true lasting friendships it has to be with people that they have cultivated them with and who they enjoy being with.

  • Carrie

    Carrie

    July 5th, 2016 at 9:47 PM

    I agree… My issue is Gracie is a late bloomer & was bullied from 6th grade to 8th & towards the end of 8th grade her regular friends who have developed faster than her… Well, The bully has now become one of her friends because she is telling Gracie everything she wants to hear! My issue is Gracie just grasping on to any kind of friend is a good friend but, I don’t want her becoming her best friend. I mean I even with the school had them keep them apart because she was just mean to Gracie but, her friends (her old friends) are not really her great friends obviously … I’m just wanting Gracie to stand up for herself & have some esteem! I’m really trying my hardest but, don’t want to try too hard. Hope you understand . Please try & let me know about this situation. I just need some guidance .
    Thank You, Carrie

  • Camille

    Camille

    July 6th, 2016 at 2:32 PM

    Since when would my teenager even want me to help her make friends? That would seem like the kiss of death for sure.

  • archie

    archie

    July 7th, 2016 at 12:17 PM

    One thing that I have often noticed is that the closer kids are with their families then the easier time they have making friends with other kids who are actually going to be positive influences in their lives.

    They have that closeness with their family and there is not quite the need to rebel and look for people who might get them on the wrong path in life. They will look for even more people who fill that need for caring and compassion in life, and if this the kind of relationships that are modeled to them at home then it is very likely that this is the kind of relationship that they will seek outside of the home too.

  • stressmom

    stressmom

    July 8th, 2016 at 10:52 AM

    I have truly come to believe that our children are much more capable of making their own friends and cultivating those long term relationships that I ever could be. I might given the the tools and some tips along the way when they ask for them, but you know, there is something to be said for having a little more laid back and hands off approach.

  • Joe

    Joe

    January 30th, 2018 at 8:00 AM

    Each kid is different. The “hands off approach” might be great for a teen who hasn’t had any problems making friends. But each kid is different. When you see your son alone in his room day after day, playing video games, not doing anything with other kids his age, then you start to worry. I have a great relationship with him. We spend time together, have fun, joke around. But he’s different around kids his own age — he just closes himself off. I was somewhat the same way, but was able to make a few very close friends in high school, guys and girls I’d hang out with, and I still have and value those friendships. We’ve tried getting him involved in school activities, sports, etc, and just expected him to take it from there. He hasn’t. That’s why parents looked up this article.

  • Carrie

    Carrie

    July 8th, 2016 at 12:10 PM

    I agree

  • Jacqueline

    Jacqueline

    July 11th, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    What good will it do the kids if I am always the one who is stepping up and making their friends for them?
    I don’t know what they want to hang around with as a person anymore than another person would know what kind of person I would like to be around.
    I think that the best thing that any of us can do for our kids is to teach them who they really are, and then making friends after they know all of that will be so much easier.

  • Karen

    Karen

    August 4th, 2016 at 7:52 AM

    I agree that helping my daughter find friends is not the right thig. That being said, we do talk all the time about the kids around her, which ones are trustworthy, fun things to do with friends, and we even talk through the nasty situations. We talk on a daily basis. The hardest adjustment so far lately has been understanding the boundaries of increased independence….. Curfews, driving, going away with friends. My biggest lesson has been talking through expectations and letting her explore adventures now while she is still home so I can still help guide her and help her through the mistakes. Our teenagers should be guided at this point not directed. They are transitioning between childhood and adulthood. This is hate for parents and teens alike

  • Erika

    Erika

    April 22nd, 2017 at 7:00 PM

    Reading all these comments I so can relate. We have a 14-year old daughter, Tess, who was severely bullied in 7th and 8th grade. It was so bad that we actually chose to home school her the last half of her 8th grade year. She was severely depressed and her self confidence was at an all time low. A good friend of mine is a well known therapist in the area where we live and she recommended the most incredible summer program called Amplify Sleep Away Camp for Girls . Its a music and arts camp for teen girls located in the mountains in Ojai, California. Tess had never played an instrument before – but over the course of two weeks she was playing the drums like she had been taking lessons for years. The entire program focuses on building girls self esteem, mentorship, and lifting each other up. I’ve got to say I was terrified to send her away after the year we’d had, but after reading so many positive reviews online and talking with another family who had a daughter in a similar situation to ours, we decided to go for it. It was seriously the best decision we could have made. I know people talk about things ” changing” their kids – and I know as a parent, a mom, you’d do anything to see your kid happy and making positive strides in life – this is what this program gave to Tess. When I came to pick her up and see her band perform their original song and all her new friends chanting her name during her drum solo – her smile was the biggest I’d seen since she was a kid!! She feels like this community of girls and incredible staff ( which included therapists on site) are like a second family to her. This year she started high school and has been making friends and getting better grades. She is in love with playing the drums and she talks with her ” best friends” from summer camp every week – some of them nightly. Anyway – I just thought I’d put in my two sense about what really helped our family. Sending love to all.
    girlsrocksb.org/summer-music-camps/

  • Chris

    Chris

    May 21st, 2017 at 11:37 AM

    Thanks Erika for the suggestion about Amplify Sleep Away Camp. I will definitely check it out for my daughter. I’m glad it helped your daughter. I see from the website that there is also a Day Camp. Do you know if this is identical to the sleepover camp?
    Thanks so much for your help!

  • Delia

    Delia

    January 30th, 2018 at 4:39 PM

    Hi Erika~
    I’m so glad I read your post as I can relate to yours and to the many other replies. I have a question about the program, did your daughter attend one week or several? I just checked the site and they were not affected by the fires or the mudslides so I am seriously considering sending my daughter. I have two teenage daughters and I am not sure if the one having difficulty keeping friends would attend alone so I am considering sending both. I am hopeful that at least one week will be of benefit to both but am interested to know if one week benefited your daughter or was it over several weeks.
    Thanks.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    July 30th, 2017 at 5:09 AM

    Hi! My son is quiet and I feel badly that he has no friends. We do not live in a subdivision and no kids around to play with. He is always on his xbox and board. I think he is disadvantaged socially not having the interaction. Now he is in 7th grade and he is alone. He says he is ok. Please provide some suggestions.

  • Bee

    Bee

    September 2nd, 2017 at 7:05 AM

    It’s heart breaking when your child seems lonely! I have two sons one 17 one 18. My 17yr is confident & literally is friends with just about everyone & has so many offers to parties it’s ridiculous & my 18yr old son is completely different he has struggled in high school & has become increasingly more lonely even though his relationship with his brother is really good. My 17yr is sporty my 18yr is an artist. They have been bought up exactly the same. I think basketball is a terrific sport great to make friends & horse riding is an excellent confidence builder for the not so sporty.. If you can afford it!

  • La Cat

    La Cat

    September 17th, 2017 at 3:00 PM

    Our 16 year old daughter has struggled for the last 3/4 years now to make long-lasting friendships. She seems to get on with everyone and I know she is kind and caring, but for some reason she makes friends but the friendship doesn’t seem to last longer than a few months. She is painfully aware of this recurring cycle and although she is very astute and introspective, she cannot understand what keeps causing this problem and it is making her very depressed. Does anyone have any idea what could be going on here as we are at a loss?!?!

  • Airam

    Airam

    September 25th, 2017 at 8:29 PM

    Oh my, this sounds exactly like my 14 year old son! Since middle school her friendships have dwindled. Friends went through puberty while my son looks and acts younger. He is so nice and funny. He is always ingrnored and feels invisible. He just started high school and made friends which he is happy about but it seems he is starting to be ignored again. His new friend really liked him but his “old friend” from middle school befriended him and prefers him over my son. He is always alone and it’s heartbreaking He volunteers during his spare time…keeps him busy but there are few younger people around. Perhaps there is something off putting about them or they are trying to fit in with the wrong crowd?? Trying to help him with some social skills but seriously it seems like the same cycle keeps happening. Just hoping he can meet someone like him? I have no answers left!

  • Claire

    Claire

    October 24th, 2017 at 8:46 AM

    La Cat – I could have been reading my own post. My 16 year old daughter, 16 struggles too. She seems to have superficial friendships, but when these girls form tighter friendship groups, she’s always on the outside – as a result never gets included in plans and gets nowhere when she does try to make plans herself. She cannot seem to make an impression on people she meets. She’s sensitive and her confidence is really low. To make matters worse her 13 year old sister makes friends effortlessly & has a bigger social life than she does. In this teenage world it seems the hardest thing to be lonely & friendless.

  • Susie

    Susie

    October 28th, 2017 at 2:41 PM

    We moved when my daughter was 12. She started a new school optimistically but I guess has never found the right friends. Now 14, high school is becoming quite depressing. She is never invited to anything and when she attempts to make plans, no one seems to one to do things with her. She isn’t happy and comments all the time how she’s alone and wants friends. I feel social media makes it feel like everyone else has things to do and people to hang out with when you’re sitting at home alone, again, doing nothing. I am pushing for school clubs but they don’t seem very active either – seeing people once a month doesn’t really forge friendships. A school project recently she couldn’t even get someone to do it with her and had to do it alone, while groups formed around her. She’s smart and would have contributed a lot, but no one wanted to include her for whatever reason. These things are very hard hitting on her self-esteem. I want to help, but honestly don’t really know what to do. I think she is coming off as very depressed now and that will make it even harder to find friends.

  • Ann

    Ann

    October 29th, 2017 at 12:23 PM

    Hi Claire, This is exactly what my 16 year old is going through. She feels alone because she is at a new school and do not have any real connections with the girls. They are nice but everyone seem to be already connected with their friends. I wish there was a way to connect teen girls who are looking for friends. It is a hard age. She feels so alone and I don’t know what to do.

  • jamie

    jamie

    February 15th, 2018 at 8:57 AM

    I think this might be typical of older siblings being more reserved. I believe it is because the younger sibling always had the older sibling as a “built-in” friend and is thus more confident whereas the older sibling has always had to be the first to do everything without an older sibling to show them the ropes. My sons are like that. My older son only has a couple of friends and has a hard time making new friends, while my middle son has at least 4 or 5 friends he knows well.

  • Leah

    Leah

    September 27th, 2017 at 6:34 PM

    My son was bullied in 7th grade and I pulled him from the school to do on-line education. We decided to send him back to our school system in high school. He was bullied, but seemed to make friends and loved theatre. This year, he keeps saying he wants to move school systems (to be with his youth group friends). He said he just doesn’t fit in. I liked the article and asked him his goals, what he has to offer. He doesn’t know. I told him this is the first step. It doesn’t help that he has anxiety disorder and ADHD. Can’t do meds, because they counteract each other. Theatre should be starting up soon, so I hope that helps. Any other ideas?

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    November 28th, 2017 at 11:08 PM

    Hi Leah,
    Both my kids are ADHD and have depression with anxiety.
    I’m no doctor, but I’ve been fighting with meds. I have found a doctor that has prescribed Prozzac. It is for depression, but does help with ADHD and calms the anxiety. It takes 2 – 4 wks to notice a change. If there isn’t, dosage will be adjusted. Maybe talk to your doc about Depression meds, and see what he/she says? Symptoms are very similar, and perhaps anxiety meds can mix with those? I don’t know, but it’s a suggestion. Good luck.

  • Airam

    Airam

    October 29th, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    My 14 year old son is still struggling in high school. He only knew two boys from his old school and they are in all of his classes. One managed to befriend two of his new friends and now they have outcasted my son. The other boy has started to bully him pretty bad now. He calls him fat and a loser and does this in front of all th new kids he is trying to meet. No one steps up for him and this gives th others a certain impression of my son. He is going to talk to one of his teachers that he likes. He is a bright, kind, super funny, rule following type of kid. Not athletic at all (to his detriment) & a little geeky. He is doing well in school and I have encouraged him to join a club but he does not want to do it alone. He has no one he can count on. Group projects are hell and he is either alone or stuck with some kids that he does not fit in with (that smoke or do drugs or his bully friends). I am going to call th counsellor at the school. He has blocked the one particular “bully friend” from social media, ask the teacher to change seats and avoid the lot at lunch. I feel really bad for him & he is not enjoying high school at all. I have talked to him about changing schools which might be an option if it does not get better. This breaks my heart.

  • Yorlene A

    Yorlene A

    November 15th, 2017 at 10:14 AM

    Hi, my 14 years old daughter was bullied in grade 8 and she pulled away from friends as she started to isolated herself in a deep sad/depression mood. Some of her close friends used to make fun of some stuff that she said and everything got worse. After over a year the depression increased and now she also has anxiety and the doctor recommended medication and counselling. It has been really hard now in High School, she has no friends, she mostly spend lunch periods alone :( and we are just praying and waiting for the medication to help her. A good friend this moment will be very helpful for her, but it’s hard to find teenagers that care about other teenager that look depressed, they actually pull away from depressed kids and call them “weird”. I don’t know what else to do. She is a sporty girl, she used to play rep soccer, nothing is the same anymore, her self stem went really low. I hope everyday will be better but no yet, it looks like sometimes she gets worse.

  • La Cat

    La Cat

    November 15th, 2017 at 11:57 AM

    Dear Yorlene I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation and can fully understand as the same thing happened to my daughter when she was 12. After being picked on for a couple of years by some mean girls she became sad and depressed (which was so unlike her) and ended up being off school for a month while I hoped the school would acknowledge the problem and try to remedy it. Unfortunately this didn’t happen and although she returned to the school for a while, we ended up moving her to another school (much smaller and more up to date with anti-bullying policies etc) for a fresh start which did indeed help. She then had to move schools again as we had to relocate to a different country, and although it is also a small school she has once again experienced being left out. Being older now (16) she is coping better and after much soul-searching on my part as well as visits to therapists, I am sure she suffers this problem because of jealousy. She is very attractive and vivacious and liked by all her teachers, as well as attracting the attention of boys….The therapy sessions have helped (if you can afford that) by re-enforcing in her a belief that it isn’t anything she is doing but more about the other girls feelings of insecurity. I hope this helps a little bit. A big hug to you both – give lots of love and hang in there it does get better! xx

  • Yorlene A

    Yorlene A

    November 15th, 2017 at 1:09 PM

    Thanks so much. I know now that there are many cases like my daughters. I have to share that might be some jealousy, my daughter also is very attractive and tall for her age. I just hope that this gets better. Thanks xoxo

  • AAYY

    AAYY

    November 16th, 2017 at 5:54 AM

    So true…Thanks.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    November 28th, 2017 at 10:59 PM

    Omgosh, I can so relate to so many comments. My son is 17, and has a high IQ. He is socially awkward with anyone his age. He began getting bullied in grade 1, which lasted until grade 8. We moved mid grade 9 from a city to a small town. The kids here are different. Drugs and hanging out and doing nothing seems to be the ‘normal’. My son doesn’t smoke, drink, or just ‘hang… he gets bored fast. He has now developed depression, which He was diagnosed last year. He wants to engage, but can’t find anyone to engage with. He began going to our local Youth Centre, and still can’t find anyone to hook up with. Tonight he was almost in tears because he doesn’t know what else to do. He is in a type of schooling where he has some work to do at home, and some in work places, so he’s not in a school amongst many others. His motivation is disappearing, so he’s struggling with all of that too. I wish I could help, but I don’t have answers. He sees a counsellor, but it’s every 3 wks. She took sick, so now he has to wait until next week… which will be 4 wks. Any suggestions on how and where kids can meet other kids, Cause I’ve unfortunately run out of answers.

  • Leah

    Leah

    November 29th, 2017 at 6:42 PM

    Have him join a club he is interested in at school. My son is doing theater and is loving it! I must say that the first quarter was a little rough because theater had not started for the lower grades, it was seniors only.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    November 30th, 2017 at 9:36 AM

    Thanks. Unfortunately he’s not going to school, he’s doing work from home and working in businesses for credits. He was having a tough time interacting with the kids, which is the reason for him doing schooling another way.
    So glad your son is enjoying, it’s awesome to hear. :)

  • MacKenzie

    MacKenzie

    December 11th, 2017 at 9:08 AM

    I love my friends I I would like you to know that you should always be nice to one and oneonother.

  • Annie

    Annie

    January 3rd, 2018 at 6:12 PM

    Reading all these makes me feel their are more kids like mine and concerned, worried moms. I have 12 yr old son and he is having similar difficulties as mentioned by Airam in sep.25th comment. We are thinking to change a school and give it a try. I would like to know if any parent/therapist can suggest on how to deal with these issues and help our kids.

  • Bev

    Bev

    January 19th, 2018 at 12:38 PM

    Hi, i have a daughter who’s 11 next week and my heart is breaking for her, she has struggled through school the past few years and has had alot of time off school, fortunately she has been enjoying the yeah shes in now and wants to go to school untill last week, i thought she had friends as she meets up with some of them sometimes but at the moment she is so low and sad, her so called friends go out and dont invite her or if she is invited out, when she gets to where theyre meeting theyre awful to her and have sometimes pretended that she wasnt invited, shes very lonely at the mo and certain girls at school make out they want to be friends then start playing mind games with her, she came to me one night and told me she dont want to be here anymore, she spends her time in her room if shes not with me and is always unhappy i feel so sorry for her, how can i help my child make friends and socialise

  • jamie

    jamie

    February 15th, 2018 at 8:45 AM

    Hi Bev,
    I’m so sorry your daughter (and you as her mother) are going through this. Have you contacted your daughter’s school? Our school district has a Bully Hotline and encourages students and/or parents to contact them if their child is having any problems with students at school. I would definitely contact your child’s teacher as well as the principal to make them aware of the situation. I have boys myself (and there can be issues there as well) , but I know girls can be really mean, and they should not be allowed to get away with it. In the meantime, be extra supportive of your daughter and try to spend as much quality time together as you can. Our kids need to feel like we are there 110% for them and often need extra TLC at times like this.

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