For most people, making friends in childhood is easy. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sharing or spending time together on the same swing. But as we get older, making and keeping friends can become harder.
For many teens, the jump into adolescence comes with a growing list of challenges, including new and frightening social dynamics, problems with self-acceptance, and insecurity. Other teens struggle to find the right friends and might be more likely to fall into the “wrong crowd”. If your teen has trouble opening up to people socially or personally or has been habitually shy from a young age, you might be tempted to try and help them make friends.
The truth is that while you can help, your teen plays the most crucial role in finding the right people to hang out with. Changing what kind of people your teen hangs out with is difficult. Some research shows that teens tend to pick their peers based on their relationships with their parents – even in their “rebellious” phase, teens make friends based on who is around them, and environments are completely within a parent’s control.
Suppose your teen enjoys playing video games and is more interested in the latest expansion of their favorite series but doesn’t care about music. In that case, it may be true that they’re less likely to hang out with anyone committed to band practice and theater.
But don’t sell your teen short, either. Like adults, teens can like several things at once. And while they might be more inclined to assimilate into cliques and groups, teens nowadays are becoming more honest about what they enjoy outside their “core identities.” Sporty teens can discuss this year’s best manga or their love for tokusatsu shows. The popular influencer at your teen’s high school might listen to obscure music and blast a Soft Machine album from 1979.
Encourage Their Interests and Hobbies
Interests are everything, especially in today’s modern subculture-based super culture. Cliques and communities are forming online and being reflected in real life. People communicate through “memes” and references and inside jokes fostered by content creators they collectively enjoy.
While teens still pick their real-life friends based on who they’re growing up around, they’re getting to know people from around the world, exploring interests, and trying out new things all the time.
While it might be tiresome to see your teen hop from one interest to the next, know that that is normal and part of growing up. You might have started trying to learn an instrument at one point, only to give up and get into gymnastics, then skating, or cross-country. Whatever your teen might be interested in, encourage their interests, and support them in local meetups for their hobbies.
Allow Them to Hang Out with Others
The best way to make friends is to spend more time with people, not just at school or in controlled environments where you can watch what your teen is doing, but out and about.
If your teen is worried about going out to spend time with others, encouraging them to give it a try can help. Not everyone is indeed a social butterfly, but there are gradients to introversion and extroversion, and most people fall somewhere in the middle.
Suppose your teen leans much harder into introversion, perhaps even to the degree of social anxiety. In that case, encouragement can be one step towards helping them overcome the initial hurdle of spending time around others.
But if it’s a recurring problem that they struggle with every time they’re faced with the prospect of going out, you might need to consider an alternative approach, such as professional help.
Ask Them to Go to Groups
If your teen is invited to a party, ask them if they can invite another friend to come with them. Parties are a great place to meet new people and hang out with peers – but they can also be dangerous occasionally in addition to being stressful for some teens.
Parents know and accept this risk as part of growing up – we have to allow our teens some freedom as they grow up, so they can continue to mature as individuals – but proper safeguards are essential. Sending your teen out with a known, trusted friend can give both of you greater comfort and security.
Encourage Them to Be True to Themselves
Sometimes, teens will gravitate towards popular trends to become more popular. This is fine and normal, but it might become a bit more of an issue when there’s a lot of money or long-term consequences at stake. For example, trying out a new fashion style for a week is one thing, but tattoos are rarely well thought-out.
Talk to your teen if you see them reinvent themselves every two weeks. Sometimes, we need to experiment to figure out who we are. But sometimes, we know who we are and feel ashamed of it. If your teen is being bullied for their interests, knowing you’re in their corner and helping them find others with similar likes can help them feel more confident in their skin and style.
Ask Them About Talking to a Therapist Together
Teenage shyness is a personality quality millions of people share. Some people develop better social skills as they grow older, more confident, and more secure. Others struggle with their identity for years to come. Others yet suffer not just from usual shyness but from serious anxiety.
If your teen displays signs of anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia or social anxiety disorder, then encouragement and support might not be enough. Talk to them about booking an appointment with a professional to help them discuss their worries, and find ways to cope.