How to be a compass for teens as they navigate the tricky waters of friendship.
If you have a teen, you know the social scene is sometimes rocky. But teen social issues are nothing new. Maybe you passed notes in chemistry while today's teens use social media to check in with each other and sometimes cause real drama. While parents of toddlers and young children can resort to hovering, for better or for worse, parents of teens need a better go-to strategy for helping them work through teen social issues.
"I always recommend that parents engage instead of hover when it comes to navigating tricky social situations, online and in real life," says Katie Hurley, a psychotherapist and the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook." "Sometimes parents gloss over the hard stuff and minimize it in an effort to protect kids from hurt feelings. The truth is that peer conflict is a huge source of stress for tweens and teens. We can't protect them, but we can support them."
Helicopter parenting is a definite pitfall for parents of teens just coming into their new sense of self. "Parents can't micro-manage every social issue, but if you provide a framework of values that you teach and expect your child to adhere to, they have an anchor for any social system that comes up," explains Dr. Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist and the author of "The Self-Motivated Kid." "If you teach the value of respect -- treating someone the way you want to be treated and you expect respectful social interactions in return -- then they can use that value in any situation that comes up."
The three common scenarios below occur fairly often in teen life. Here are some suggestions for helping teens navigate through them:
- Navigating Arguments
Rather than focusing on "he-said-she-said" when talking through friendship drama with your teen, stick to core values like empathy, respect and humility. Keeping to the big picture steers you away from micromanaging the conversation and getting to what lies beneath. "Teens can get caught up in the detail but you really want to get to the core message -- the intention behind the words," says Dr. Kang.
- When Friends Drift Apart
Whether a friend is excluded online or from plans, someone feels left out while the others may feel validated in their choice. Chances are your teen has been or will be on one or both sides of this dilemma. "The first step for parents of the child feeling left out is to empathize," Hurley observes. "It's difficult to feel left out. Kids question themselves and it can negatively impact their self-esteem. Chances are parents felt that way at some point. Share a story. Convey understanding. Give your child the space to grieve the loss of the relationship."
On the flip side are the kids who chose to move on. "For those parents, I encourage focusing on empathy and kindness. It's okay to grow apart and try out new friends, but it's never okay to say unkind things, act in an unkind manner or ostracize someone. Open, honest communication about how and why friendships change and how to move forward while spreading kindness is important. Encourage kids to consider how other kids feel when things get complicated," says Hurley.
- Working Through Heated Situations
If your teen comes to you in a dramatic panic, immediately get him to analyze the situation. "It's rooted in neuroscience. Stress releases adrenaline. You engage your fight-or-flight brain and you get a reaction instead of an interaction," explains Dr. Kang. "When you come from a place of curiosity, it avoids judgment and argumentation. Curiosity comes from the thinking center of the brain whereas judgment and argumentation comes from the stressed brain," she explains. "It's impossible to be curious and stressed at the same time."
The most important rule you and your children should heed is never respond right away. When you immediately respond to something you see, read or hear, you're reacting with your stress brain, not your thinking brain. The beauty of online communications is you can always hit pause on your reaction, regroup and craft your reply before hitting send.
If you need more guidance, try 5 Tricky Social Media Situations to Help Kids Handle With Confidence.
How do you help your kids with friend drama? Let us know in the comments!
Cara J. Stevens is a freelance writer living in Connecticut with her husband and two children. She has authored several books for children and writes frequently about parenting, hair care, DIY crafts, food and healthy living and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.