Helping Your Teenager Cope with Friendship Issues As They Start Secondary School.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I was filming in Essex yesterday for Disney Junior UK and I got chatting about my new programme for parents and children making the transition to Secondary School.
The camera man started sharing with me his concern that his usually happy go lucky son was finding friendships difficult as his usual mates had started hanging out with other boys with similar backgrounds & cultures and had started ignoring him.
It got me thinking about friendships in the teenage years.
Every stage of your child’s development will present you with its own challenges, problems and difficulties to overcome, and entering the teenage years are probably among the scariest for most parents!
Teenagers have a lot going on in their lives & have always strived for more independence, but young people seem to face more pressure than we did growing up due to social media, as things have changed enormously in a relatively short space of time due to technology
But they also battle real life peer pressure and this will also impact on their behaviour, along with the inevitable friendship issues.
Both teenage boys and girls may experience friendship issues at secondary school, and they may or may not call on you for advice and support. The key here is to be led by your child and resist the temptation to wade in with lots of worldly advice that they may not want or be able to cope with.
The softly, softly approach works better as you bear in mind that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason! ? It’s better to listen more than you speak – despite your wisdom!
However, when our children struggle it’s time to choose your moment to intervene, support and give advice.
It’s all about your tone of voice, body language and approach with teens.
It seems that a lot of friendship issues affect teenage girls more than boys, but both sexes will encounter their fair share of changes in their friendships during their teenage years.
Here’s a question that was sent in to my ‘Don’t Stew- Ask Sue’ feature on my Sue Atkins Parenting Show Podcast along similar lines to the camera man & you can listen to my advice here https://sueatkinsparentingcoach.com/podcasts/
My son Mark has moved to Secondary School and is having problems. He used to have fun with his friends from different cultural and racial backgrounds all through his Primary School but suddenly Jakub is hanging out only with his Polish new friends, Rishi is hanging out with his Hindu friends & Mustafa is hanging out at break time with his Turkish friends leaving Mark at a loss what has happened. Any suggestions as this upsetting us all. Maria Evangelou from Pinner.
Peer pressure can be a very powerful tool and fitting in, particularly in a new and unfamiliar environment, may well result in a teenager doing things that are very out of character which can have the potential to change their behaviour.
One of the reasons that teenagers, and some children of all ages, succumb to peer pressure is based on their friendships and the fact that they want to hold on to them or to be seen to ‘fit in’ not ‘stand out’. As they mature into young adults, they realise that their true friends will accept them no matter what, but it’s a hard value to pass on to youngsters worried about ‘looking good, being cool & fitting in’ to their new Secondary school.
We can all remember how difficult teenage years can be, and how precious and important our friends suddenly became, so try and understand your teenager’s behaviour.
Friends can influence them in major ways during their formative years, and it is natural for your teenager to want to spend more time with their friends than with you. It is also natural and to be expected that they may start dressing the same, listening to the same music and getting involved in the same activities.
It’s also about talking and teaching them that it’s important who they choose to hang out with.
Proceed with Caution
The teenage brain is wired to explore and take more risk as they discover the wider world. That is perfectly natural teenage behaviour; however, every parent ultimately wants their child to be safe, whatever their age, but you will need to talk through the importance of this with them as they will probably think that you are just being overprotective and a fuddy duddy. It may well be that their friends later on smoke, drink, take drugs, have under age sex, go to unsuitable places out of school and your teenager may well want to follow suit. In fact, they may already be doing some of these things without your knowledge. Most schools offer excellent personal and sexual health education classes and it’s possible that your teenager will know far more about some of this issues than you do, however it is also possible that they will be influenced by their friends and it is important that they know you are aware of the potential dangers.
You are an important influence on your teenager, even if they pretend that you’re not, so don’t be frightened to address these issues but be mindful of your style – don’t speak to your 14 year old as if they are still 4!
You Can’t Choose Your Child’s Friends…Whatever Their Age!
You really can’t choose who your teenager decides to be friends with, but it’s important for them to know you will always be there for them if there are any problems. Keeping an open mind and an open line of communication is the best way to support your teenager through any tough or challenging times with their friendships.
Try not to interfere or be controlling as this will probably just alienate them. Instead just make your feelings clear and let them know you care about them. We all have choices and learning to make the right ones is a good life skill to pass on to all of your children.
Create ‘Moments of Connection’ – for me it was dropping my son Will off at football practice every Thursday on the drive up to his regular training session. We would chat about his week, my week, problems he may have, we’d chat about Chelsea FC and the poor referee last Saturday or we’d just listen to the music on the radio, but sometimes I passed on my wisdom, talked ‘deep and meaningful’ and stayed influential in his teenage years. It was an important time I realised looking back.
Building Confidence and Making Friends
Remind your child that everyone is in the same boat when they start at Secondary school.
Talk to them about ways to initiate conversations if they find this difficult & remind them that friendships take time to develop & not to panic if they don’t make a friend immediately.
Encourage them to join clubs and become involved in school life. This can be a good way to make friends with pupils in other forms and year groups.
Since everyone is new, people are likely going to be curious about them and will be more open to talking with them. Take advantage of this & help your child to see that starting in a new environment is a positive thing. Help them to reframe their thoughts around the experience as it will help them adjust more easily.
Build up their self esteem and confidence at home & outside school to help them feel capable and competent in the other areas of their lives.
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