By Tanni Haas, Ph.D. | Contributor
Friendships between teens can be fickle: one day they’re the best of friends; the next day one of them gives the other the cold shoulder. It’s hard when a former friend disappears from your life. How can parents help their teens through friendship breakups? Here’s what the experts suggest:
Let Them Express How They Feel
The first thing parents should do is to let their teens express how they feel.
Parenting coach and author Mercedes Samudio says that parents should create a safe space for their teens to experience the emotions that come with a breakup. “They’ll feel angry and hurt,” she says, “but if they know they’ve a safe space to explore all their feelings they’re more likely to share them with you.” If your teens feel comfortable sharing how they feel with you, they’re more likely to listen to your suggestions when they’re ready to move on and make new friends.
Be Mindful About How You Respond
Listen to your teens, but also be mindful of how you respond to what they’re telling you.
“If you appear to be overly emotional about the situation,” says youth social worker Jessica Wein, “your child in the future may choose to withhold certain information as means to protect mom/dad from becoming upset.” Keep your emotions under control and listen in as non-judgmental a way as you can, showing that you understand what they’re going through. The mere fact of knowing that you understand, says child psychologist Dr. Kennedy-Moore, “lightens the burden of big feelings for your child.”
Explain That Friendship Breakups Are Normal
Explain to your teens that friendship breakups are part of life, and also the emotional process they’re going through.
“Remind your child that a friendship breakup isn’t a failure,” says social worker Signe Whitson, author of several parenting books, “but rather a predictable (albeit painful) part of growing up.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Margaret DeLong adds that parents should emphasize that the end of a friendship doesn’t imply “that there’s something ‘wrong’ with your child or the other child, or that it’s anyone’s fault.” Teens may not realize that they and their former friend have simply grown apart, or that their former friend has developed new interests and is involved in activities that make them gravitate towards other people.
Encourage Them To Look For New Friends
“Parents play an important role in making sure that their kids don’t put all of their nest eggs into a single peer group basket.”
Encourage your teens to look for new friends and do it by casting as wide a net as possible, including by being open to meeting new people in the neighborhood, at school, and during extracurricular activities like clubs, sports teams, and youth groups. “Parents play an important role in making sure that their kids don’t put all of their nest eggs into a single peer group basket,” says Ms. Whitson, “but rather develop genuine relationships with multiple peers and all kinds of friendship groups.” Dr. DeLong agrees: “Help your child to develop relationships in a variety of settings. This way, when your child experiences the loss of a friendship, he or she will have other people to spend time with.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.