Children and Teens
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Friendships
With the benefits of friendship well established, researchers are spending more time studying what defines healthy versus unhealthy friendships. Regardless of age and gender, healthy friendships are characterized by respectful communication, trust and honesty, and supportive interactions. In healthy friendships, the goal is for each individual to feel secure and comfortable around the other. When we feel secure and comfortable in our interactions with a friend, we are able to share private thoughts and feelings and not be judged for doing so.
A healthy friendship typically involves equitable interactions. For example, sometimes you might find yourself doing most of the talking, and other times, more listening. Each person in the friendship should feel he/she can be heard without criticism and evaluation. A good friend can provide advice when advice is requested and can listen when you simply want to vent. During adolescence, many teens can feel unsure about themselves and unsure about their interactions with others. Friendships are a plateau to gain confidence in one's sense of self-worth and identity.
Conflicts can occur at any time in a relationship, healthy or unhealthy. However, in a healthy friendship, conflicts are often able to be resolved with minimal hurt feelings, and at times, can even strengthen the relationship. Additionally, healthy friendships entail supporting one another to develop other friendships. It can be hard sometimes to watch your friend create a friendship with someone else. We might fear that we are going to get left out or miss out on fun times. However, research suggests that when friends can support one another in making other friends, the overall quality of that former friendship deepens.
As opposed to healthy friendships, unhealthy friendships ultimately result in feeling worse about oneself. This may not happen immediately in the friendship; in fact, sometimes unhealthy friendships start off as very good, fun, and exciting. However, the friendship may become unhealthy as time passes in a variety of ways. Research suggests an unhealthy relationship is characterized by one or both people trying to control or manipulate the other, critical interactions, and/or unsupportiveness. In an unhealthy relationship, your friend might make fun of you in ways that feel hurtful and vindictive. Your friend may be judgmental of you and others who are close to you. This friendship may seem more one-sided; you might be the one who always listens and never gets to do any of the talking.
Furthermore, these friendships often entail losing other friendships and missing out on enjoyable experiences. Common events often cited as characterizing unhealthy friendships involve not making time for the friendship, dictating what the other does, ignoring the other when he/she is speaking, and physically hurting the other.
You may be able to tell if you are in an unhealthy friendship if you feel anxious, tense, and worried about your interactions with this friend. You may feel as though you have to "walk on eggshells" and fear upsetting him or her. You might feel as though you are on an emotional rollercoaster; sometimes interactions with this friend can feel reciprocal and stable; however, at other times, you might not understand why, but your friend rejects, ignores, or hurts you. This will likely leave you feeling unsure about yourself and how others perceive you.
It is important to recognize when you are in an unhealthy friendship as this can lead to decreased self esteem, problems in other areas of your life, and unhappiness. If you are in an unhealthy friendship, it may be easy or difficult to end the relationship, depending on the situation. Sometimes, the friendship may simply fizzle out if you stop interacting with the other person as much. However, often times it is more difficult to end an unhealthy friendship. The other person may feel threatened and resentful that you want to part ways. This person may bully, tease, and covertly criticize you. He or she may spread rumors about you and/or try and get others to reject you. Even if this happens, it is important to remind yourself of why you are trying to end the friendship.
It may be helpful to talk with a counselor, teacher, or therapist who you trust and feel supported by. This adult can listen openly and non-judgmentally and provide guidance or advice when it might be helpful. It would also be very important to talk with a trusted adult if you feel physically threatened by the other person. Reaching out to other friends can also be helpful at this time. You may want to reconnect with old friends or try to make new friends. Starting a new hobby or after-school activity can also be a good opportunity to put distance between yourself and the other person. Ultimately, re-establishing contacts with old friends and making new friends can replace the emptiness or hurt you may experience while ending an unhealthy friendship.
Summer is the season when we spend more time with our friends. This issue relates to recognizing healthy vs unhealthy friendships as well as how to make new, and maintain current friendships.
We would also like to invite mental health professionals who are seeking some peer support to join us once a month for Body and Soul Sustenance. We'll meet over lunch to talk about the joys and stressors of serving as a mental health professional. Our first meeting will be at Nantucket at Sutton Station in Durham on Friday, July 22nd at noon. Please RSVP to email@example.com.
Making and Keeping Friends at Different Stages of Life
Friendships are often one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling parts of our lives. Not only do they provide us with company to engage in enjoyable activities, but they enrich our lives through shared meaning. Support systems have been linked to higher levels of happiness and improved overall health. While some friendships may only last for certain periods of time, others extend over a lifetime, and most of us recognize these relationships as some of the most important we will have. Even for people who generally feel they don't have trouble making friends, there are stages in life when this task may seem more difficult, leaving us feeling lonely or doubting our abilities to connect to others. If this feels like it is true for you, or you've noticed that this might be the case for your child, here are some ideas that might help in this process.
With all the exciting activities that occur at this age, children may feel overwhelmed with the task of fitting in with their peers. Although you want their education to come first, making friends is most likely to be at the top of their agenda, and is also important to their development. Here are a few ways you can help your children establish relationships with their peers:
1. Teach your child important social skills that are essential to establishing and maintaining friendships such as sharing, listening, following rules, and playing fair. Allow your child to participate in events and activities that enable them to practice and implement these social skills. You can reinforce positive social interactions through verbal praise and, if this is something that is a real challenge for your child, through a structured reward system.
2. Provide opportunities for your child to play and socialize with other children their age such as play dates, sleepovers, car pooling, and extra-curricular activities. They should interact with their peers from school and in your neighborhood.
3. Read books with your children that teaches them about friendships and social skills.
4. It isn't uncommon for children to be timid or anxious about making friends. Be attentive to any red flags that your child may display that could indicate he or she is having trouble such as throwing tantrums, withdrawal from you more than is normal for them, or other changes in behavior or emotions.
During the teenage years, your son or daughter will encounter many possibilities to make friends such as participating in athletics, attending school events, and participating in extracurricular school activities. This is also a time when 'fitting in' and feeling connected to peers seems the most important to them, so not feeling part of a group or connected to people can feel especially difficult during these years. Here are some ways to help your teen navigate their social world:
Let your teen see how you interact with your friends. Because they are entering the young adult phase, it is important for them to see examples of mature, adult interactions. This can also help your teen better understand how positive friendships in adulthood look. If they are willing to go, take your teen to lunch with you and a friend.
2. Encourage your teen to partake in social activities that would enable him or her to meet other teens. This can include going to the movies, attending a dance, or eating dinner with a group of their peers. You can use your home as a 'safe' location for teens to hang out, yet still have adult supervision, by giving them a private area or room to spend time.
3. Talk to your teen about the meaning and importance of friendships. Discuss what makes someone a "good friend" and how to resolve conflicts and/or manage meaningful friendships they may have with others.
4, Monitor how your teen interacts with their friends. If you feel he or she is in an unhealthy relationship with one of their peers, attempt to provide guidance.
The college years provide young adults with numerous opportunities to meet new people as well as gain unique experiences. However, upon graduating, many people find it difficult or overwhelming with having to "start over" and meet new people, especially when relocating to a new town or city. Here are some ways that might help you connect to others after college:
1. Get involved in your local community. Join clubs, teams, or other extra-curricular and/or service based groups that allow you to meet and interact with others on a weekly basis. Working with others to reach a common goal is a great way to connect, and takes some of the pressure off this process, as you already share a common interest.
2. Invite people to engage in some sort of activity such as going to lunch, getting coffee or a drink, or hanging out at your place.
3. If you're shy or lacking in confidence, don't be discouraged because these feelings are not uncommon. Talk to someone else who has dealt with this stage of life, too.
As we enter adulthood, we often feel settled into patterns of making and maintaining friendships. However, many people feel dissatisfied with their outlets for social connection or the number of people to whom they truly feel close. When we are set in our ways, we can lack imagination regarding ways and places to connect to others. Here are some ideas about how to connect to new friends as adults:
1. Attend functions in your community that cater to something you are interested in but may not have tried before. This enables you to interact with people who you will begin to see on a regular basis. This could be joining a local charity with regular volunteer hours, or taking classes at a community center.
2. Join a group that involves doing something you enjoy yet keeps you active such as a yoga class or a golf club. This allows you to meet people with common interests, providing conversation starters that help take the pressure off the anxiety provoking introduction and connection process.
3. Invite family over for dinner. You can consider choosing members you feel most close or comfortable with or those who you want to get to know better, and set a theme for a dinner party. If you are in a relationship, consider having favorite members of both yours and your partner's family over together. This can deepen pre-existing relationships and lead to more regular family events and connections.
If you find your child or yourself having a little more difficulty making friends than you would like, speaking with a psychologist may help identify barriers and provide ideas for help moving past them.
Each month we will recommend a book that someone at our practice has found useful.
This month see our references for more information:
Hodges, E., Boivin, M., Viatro, F., and Bukowski, V. (1999). The Power of Friendship:
Protection Against an Escalating Cycle of Peer Victimization. Developmental Psychology, 35, 94-101.
Ladd, G., Kochenderfer, B., and Coleman, C. (1997). Classroom Peer Acceptance, Friendship, and Victimization: Distinct Relational Systems That Contribute Uniquely to Children's School Adjustment. Child Development, 68, 1181-1197.
Nangle, D., Erdley, C., Newman, J., Mason, C., and Carpenter, E. (2003). Popularity, Friendship Quantity, and Friendship Quality: Interactive Influences on Children's Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychology, 32, 546-555.
Parker, J., and Asher, S. (1993). Friendship and Friendship Quality in Middle Childhood: Links with Peer Group Acceptance and Feelings of Loneliness and Social Dissatisfaction. Developmental Psychology, 29, 611-621.
Sund, A., Larsson, B., and Wichstrom, L. (2001). Depressive symptoms among young norwegian adolescents as measured by the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ). European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry10, 222-229.
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