Should you encourage your teen to make friends? Absolutely! Encourage them to make all sorts of friends. Friendships are great; not only is connecting with other people cognitively gratifying in that you can learn all sorts of things through others, it’s also emotionally and even physically beneficial. Friends can get you into better habits and sports you might never have given a try before. They can get you to explore hobbies and interests you wouldn’t have. Friends widen our horizons. They can be a great source of joy.
In this article, we’re looking closely at one of the most common questions we hear from teens – what are the benefits of teen friendships?
Friendships Can Reduce Anxiety
Teen anxiety is a vast and growing mental health crisis. A disproportionate physical and emotional stress response is at the root of every case of anxiety. It’s normal to be anxious under certain circumstances.
Teens are often anxious the day before a big test. They’re naturally going to be anxious about confessing to a crush or asking someone out to the prom. Most teens worry about getting into a good college or doing well in their sport or profession of choice. Many teens worry about things that adults might not find as necessary, such as school clout and online popularity. Some socially conscious teens will be anxious about things like global warming, the direct effects of policy on their lives, or their prospects in tomorrow’s job market.
While many of these things are anxiety-inducing, people often mistake them for the causes of anxiety. Anxiety is not just the manifestation of stress.
On a more psychiatric or clinical note, anxiety disorders are mental health issues wherein a patient displays disproportionate reactions to stressors or experiences a sense of dread and worry without a meaningful cause or stressor.
Friends can play an essential role in mitigating these stressors, helping teens cope with their anxiety, being understanding supporters throughout the recovery and treatment process, and helping your teen continue to focus on their anxiety treatment.
Friendships are a Core Part of Adolescence
Have you ever wondered why making friends as an adult is harder? Most people blame factors like a lack of time and resources and fairly few opportunities to go out and meet new people. While some of these things are true, take note of another important factor: your brain.
Most teens are explicitly wired to make friends, and accepting new people into their lives usually comes more naturally to adolescents than it might to some adults. Meanwhile, many adults face opportunities to introduce themselves to strangers and make new friends nearly daily– yet, we typically don’t.
This isn’t always true – especially teens who struggle with social anxiety in adolescence but not in adulthood, will find it easier to bond with people they like as they get older – but generally speaking, teens are in a developmental stage in their lives where it’s normal to turn toward your peers and develop deeper bonds of friendship with those around you.
It’s also one of the reasons teens find it so crucial to fit in. Teens are much more predisposed towards groupthink and peer pressure because they want to belong to a larger contingent. Some of this comes down to evolutionary psychology – the idea that many human behaviors result from survivalist behaviors handed down from generation to generation.
We’re innately social creatures, not just because we continue to rely on each other in society but because we have always relied on each other to hunt, raise children, protect one another, and secure our futures. Teens are children on the cusp of independence in the wider adult world and seek to align themselves with other adults to find strength in numbers.
These survivalist tendencies are not always positive. Popularity does not predict the health or strength of a friend group or any given friendship. But it does explain why teens are particularly drawn to the popular and why popularity and cliques play an even greater role in adolescence than they do later in life.
In other words, your teen years are the ideal years for you to develop your social skills, hang out with people, meet new people, and explore the different facets of interpersonal relationships; to make mistakes, to trust, to be hurt, and to learn.
Friendships Can Prolong and Enrich Life
Teen friendships are an essential part of a healthy and happy teen life, and the quality of a teen’s relationships with others can be a factor in their mental wellbeing in adulthood.
Research shows that teens with deep, close friendships with other people generally show lower rates of anxiety, depression, and poor self-worth than teens who grew up as part of larger friend groups but with more external connections.
True friends are great. They keep it straight with us. They remind us of our weaknesses and celebrate our strengths. They look out for us. They encourage us to be better, to embrace the best parts of ourselves, and to do what is best for ourselves. They become confidants in times of stress and turmoil and people to share and enjoy life with when it’s at its best. They make every moment of joy and bliss even sweeter and more memorable.
Not all friendships are like that, though. Encourage your teen to nurture and cherish their closest and oldest friends, not to grow apart, to keep in touch, and to reap the benefits of friendship well into adulthood.
Of course, friendships can also come with drawbacks. Some friendships turn out not to be friendships at all. Some people go out of their way to hurt others quickly and sometimes over the years. It may take your teen some time to figure out the difference and learn to eliminate toxic relationships over time. But even those lessons are valuable and help prepare them to find and avoid similar experiences in adulthood when they can be arguably far more harmful.