Healthy Teen Friendships
As part of my job, I speak a couple of times a month to parent groups. One of my most attended sessions is about helping your teenager navigate relationships.
As you’ve probably seen in your own house, high school relationships are hard. The stakes are higher now. Your teenager is navigating friend break-ups, learning strategies to handle toxic relationships, and understanding how to build lifelong friendships in the midst of Cancel Culture.
You might remember from your own high school years that this is the era of best friends and of heartbreak. It’s when you start to learn how to handle difficult people. Most importantly, it’s when you decide what kind of a friend you want to be.
Your teenager is facing these same challenges right now—and friend drama hits different when you’re new at it. Young adults are still idealistic about relationships, which makes the highs and the lows so much more significant.
You can’t take away their pain, but you can walk through it with them.  You can model healthy strategies like good boundaries, empathy for others, and grace for yourself.
Here are four conversations to have with your high schooler to help them build healthy relationships.
1.     To Cancel or Not to Cancel
The goal is for your teenager to learn how to build healthy relationships. This means it’s not helpful to teach your kid to ghost someone who has hurt them. Instead, help them navigate difficult people in their life. As Christians, we understand the importance of forgiveness, a close spiritual community, and learning how to live alongside hurting people.
Definitely take a break from difficult relationships. For sure set reasonable boundaries in all your relationships. But also remind your high schooler that learning to deal with difficult people is the most significant win.
If your teenager asks, share what you’ve learned about forgiveness—both times you have forgiven and times you have been forgiven. Ask your student how they can repair a relationship, rather than just ignoring the person or the problem.
2.     Communicate Better. Avoid Gossip.
·      When friendships fall apart, or dating relationships crumble, encourage your high schooler to find a trustworthy person to help them process the situation. Remind your teenager that holding on to disappointment without sharing is like holding your breath. God designed you to exhale your stories. Rather than ignoring hard situations, talk about them.
·      Remind your child not to share their story with everyone. When teens are hurting, it can feel good to be the outraged victim. They might thrive on the attention that comes with telling their story. They say they need advice but are looking to spread gossip. This is toxic, and their peers recognize it. Tell your teenager that gossiping intensifies drama, hurts others, and does not build the kind of relationships they want. 
3.     Set Better Boundaries.
Boundaries are the backbone of healthy relationships. High schoolers are hesitant to enforce boundaries because they feel “mean.” But boundaries actually make teenagers feel more secure in what they expect in relationships.
Talk about the Stoplight Approach to setting boundaries with friends.
·      Green- tell the person how you’re feeling.
“Hey. Can I talk to you? When you tell our lunch table embarrassing stories about me, I feel stupid. Please don’t do that anymore.”
·      Yellow- if the person continues, tell them how you feel and set the boundary.
“I asked you not to tell those stories about me. If you keep it up, I will need to move lunch tables.”
·      Red- if they still cross the boundary, follow through on what you said you would do.
“Those stories make me uncomfortable. I’m going to sit with other friends. I hope we can sit together again, but for now, I need to move.”
4.     Be the smart kid. Look for the lessons. 
·      Conflict is a part of life. You can’t control how anyone else behaves, but you can change your reaction. Encourage your teen to ask themself questions like, “Why does this bother me so much?” and “What does my reaction to this tell me about myself?”
·      Consider Ephesians 4:32, which is a reminder that we all enjoy grace from God and then we share this grace with others. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Carrying around a grudge or having unreasonable expectations for others hurts you. Remember that most people are doing the best they can, and it’s a good idea to treat them with the same grace that God gives you.
·      In these years, when you’re deciding what kind of a friend you’ll be, remember what Jesus said in Luke 6:31, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Encourage your teenager to be humble, loyal, and honest. This attracts friends with similar values.
If you have questions, or I can serve you in any way, please reach out. I’m a great listener and love to connect. I’ve worked with teens for 25+ years, am the author of 12 books, and am a certified growth coach.

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