Why We Need to Model Healthy Friendships For Our Teens

two friends
I want to show my teens how to be a good friend.

I sat with my daughter and her teacher when she was in second grade during her conference and after discussing her progress, the subject of friendships came up. I learned that my sweet little lady, who was always a bit shy and had a hard time expressing her feelings was a bit caught up in “friendship drama”  during her days at school.

I wasn’t prepared to have a conversation like this—I thought I had more time, but more than that it made me pretty upset to hear my daughter’s involvement in it all. While neither she nor any of her friends were doing anything horrific, their behavior seem a little too dramatic for her age group.

Her teacher, a very experienced teacher, had a lot of advice to offer me. She told me there were ways I could check in with my daughter at home that would actually get her to talk. When I asked her if the girls were too young for this, she shared that she sees this kind of behavior between friends earlier and earlier.

Lord knows I remember my share of drama with my friends but it wasn’t until I reached the middle school years.

I knew my daughter had friends that she mentioned every day, she’d had a few of them over to play, and she’d gone to quite a few birthday parties. What I didn’t realize was they had a few smaller groups within their big group of friends and sometimes they purposefully left someone out of a certain group, completely excluded someone only to regroup and all be friends again. It was a vicious cycle that went on through her entire second grade school year.

Please pass the Advil.

My older son experienced the same thing in 7th grade, my youngest is going through it now.

I’ve realized the drama settles a bit as they get older, but it’s still very much there–it takes on a different form and to get information I have to dig a little harder than I did when they were younger.

This stuff isn’t easy for anyone to talk to and it can make you feel alone when you aren’t vibing with your friends.

I can’t step in and control my kids’ friendships. I can’t make them be friends with someone they don’t care to be friends with, and I can’t force all their peers to be nice to them and take away the hurt they may cause.

But I can do something beyond teaching them kindness and how to treat others with respect. I can be a sounding board if they are struggling with a friendship, and remind them if they feel like they are being treated like a doormat to speak up or end the friendship: I can model healthy friendships of my own.

Sometimes that looks like stopping what I am doing to be there for a friend and sometimes that means setting a boundary with a friend who always cancels or calls me at all hours needing something even though I’ve asked them not to.

It means they know I am going to take a few weekends out of the year to go away with my best friend, just the two of us, so we can spend quality time together.

The don’t hear me talk behind my friend’s backs, but they have heard me voicing concern directly to the person who has done something I’m not comfortable with. I think everyone can agree, being forthright with friends is really hard to do. It’s easier to ignore the behavior and let it  fester. Meanwhile, your friend has no idea that you are upset and it begins to affect more than just your relationship with them. It can make you irritable and resentful.

The thing is, there is always going to be some sort of tension or drama surrounding friendships and relationships even if you try to steer clear of it, and even if you have relationships with “drama-free” people. This stuff has a way go creeping into our lives regardless.

Mean boys and girls exist at every age. In fact, as you get older you find a lot of people don’t grow out of their “mean” behavior. It just gets worse and or more manipulative. 

Friends do things that unintentionally hurt us and we do things that unintentionally hurt them.

Sure, the circumstances might change, but you have to learn how to speak up, and realize friendships take work. I refuse to tell my kids that friendships get easier when they get older, it’s just not true.

As you get older you will still get your feelings hurt, you will still experience feelings of jealously when your good friend finds a new friend that they seem really excited about. You might still feel left out, and you still have people in your life who will talk about you behind your back or insult you to your face.

If I can’t model healthy friendships for my kids, then I can’t expect them to have them either.

I’m certainly not perfect and I have made my share of mistakes when it comes to friends, but I believe it’s important to use those as examples, and try to help my kids recognize what a good friendship feels like, how to treat others with empathy and how to know when it’s time to cut someone who isn’t treating you right loose. Because our kids are like sponges absorbing what they see and that includes seeing what we do with our friendships.


What Was True About Friendship In The ’80s Is Still True Today

With True Friendship, You Don’t Even Need to See Each Other

The Link Between Close Friendships And Later Emotional Stability In Teens

About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

Read more posts by Katie

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.