Adolescence is the time when long-standing friendships are developed and refined. Friendships can also take a real beating in adolescence as a result of several mitigating factors, which can include:
- Different stages of maturation
- Perception of popularity or lack thereof
- Emotional and physical changes
- Mood swings
Friendships require a commitment from both people involved to be active participants in the relationship, and they require reciprocation in order to be successful. In other words, they need to be a two-way street. Reciprocation requires active listening and compassion. It means showing up for each other even when things are difficult.
Friendships are relationships where reciprocal interactions are valuable, necessary, and vital. When a friendship takes on a one-way-street status, it becomes lopsided and will inevitably fracture into facets that include resentment, anger, judgment, complacency, and even anger.
Here are two examples of a classic one-way relationship:
- You’re always there for your friend when they need support, but when you ask for it, or need it, there’s little to no response.
- You only call your friend when you need something or your friend only calls you when they need something.
Neither of these scenarios is indicative of reciprocal behavior. They both tend to leave both parties feeling out of sorts and dissatisfied with the friendship as a whole because neither person’s needs are being met.
The following actions support healthy relationships:
- Both parties are supportive of one another;
- Both parties are encouraging;
- Both are willing to compromise;
- Both have healthy boundaries;
- Mutual respect for each other;
- Be open and willing to talk about disagreements;
- Willingness to say “I’m sorry.”
Employing all of these actions is not only wise, but a keen way to maintain our beloved friendships. At the same time, these tools will also provide us with ways in which to let go when that’s the healthiest thing to do.
Adolescent friendships can be tough, because they are rife with drama and quixotic change. The hormonal changes alone can set off a string of unfortunate events. Cultivating healthy friendships in adolescence is very important. It teaches teens positive and healthy communication skills; it teaches the value of connection and community; it shows teens through viable examples that they can work through difficulties, set healthy boundaries, and take care of themselves in healthy friendships. Being a good friend doesn’t mean you are a doormat or a pushover. It means you have your own sense of self that is honored and respected by those you have in your life.
As parents and educators, it’s important to mirror healthy relationships, and we can start this by cultivating a healthy relationship with our kids. Reflective listening and mutual respect are vital. Speaking from a place of “I feel” instead of using the accusatory and defensive tone implied with “You always” can positively shift the course of a disagreement. Adolescents want to be seen, heard, and respected. It’s not uncommon for adults to gloss over what teens are saying, but the truth is, an adolescent’s voice worth of the same respect we give our adult counterparts.