For Teens, Making Friends Is More Than Just Figuring Out Where To Meet People
In our therapy with teens, we find that making friends and navigating social issues is more than just answering the question: “Where do I meet people?” One of our favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes is, “There’s plenty of love in the world if people would just LOOK.” Similarly, making friends is 99% qualitative, for both adults and teens.
Every teen needs something different in the realm of making friends. Some teens we see need to get a better understanding of who they are first. We help teens reflect on who they are, so that they can then identify who their people are. Maybe their people are more likely to be found in band than on the track team. Or maybe their people are in chorus or the poetry club.
In New York, Teens Have A Lot of Choices When It Comes To Making Friends
As an NYC therapy practice who works with teens, we know that one of the nice things about being a teenager in New York is that there are so many different kinds of teens and kinds of people. There’s a comic book scene, a goth scene, a musical scene, a queer scene, an art scene, conservatives, liberals, herbalists, people who are into piercings, evangelical Christians, Unitarians, Notre Dame football fans and more. The options are seemingly endless. Of course, the Internet has also expanded choices for teens.
Often with this glut of choices, teens can need some guidance figuring out where and with whom they fit in. We can help.
Social Pressures Can Limit These Choices For Teens
It’s important to note that while New York has copious opportunities for teens to meet friends, we shouldn’t ignore the ways that social pressure limits these choices. Just because there are a million different ways to dress, do their hair, music to listen to and people they can hang with doesn’t mean teens won’t encounter friction when it comes to making these choices.
Peer pressure is a powerful force (Vonnegut always says it’s the most powerful force in the universe). The pressure to conform rather than face being ridiculed is incredibly strong. If teens are going to make brave choices, they need a certain kind of social support to do so. One function of therapy, then, is to help teens navigate these social pressures so they can find their way toward social options and ways of expressing themselves that are more fitting to who they are and who they want to hang out with.
Social Anxiety: Building Self-Esteem Through Therapy
Teens can sometimes be afraid to put themselves out there socially. Often there is anxiety around this that needs to be addressed. Anyone who has ever been to middle school knows there are tremendous forces that can grind away at self-image, from ads that make you feel fat to teachers who make you feel stupid to so-called friends that make you feel like you’re doing it all wrong. Some people make it through okay, still able to feel good about themselves and stay strong in the struggle to make friends and be confident in the social world. Others need more help.
Social anxiety is frequently rooted in trauma, whether experiences of embarrassment or even, humiliation that need to be worked through and healed. Self-esteem, self-regarding and being in touch with the ways in which a teen is a good person is a huge project of good therapy with teens and usually an important part of helping teens who get socially anxious. In therapy, we can also use role-play, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and coming up with a graduated plan to encourage a teen to take more and more risks socially.
Being Friends With The “Wrong” People
Most adults we talk to in our therapy practice have had the experience, maybe more than once, of looking around and recognizing they have at least a few people in their lives that are dragging them down. This is also true for teens–perhaps even more so. There is more up in the air for adolescents as far as who they want to be. Their understanding of who they are is more variable and more likely to change over time. So too with their friendships.
Who are some of these “wrong” friends for teens? Friends that make fun of you, not in a fun way. Friends who are making a mess of their own lives. Friends who push you to do things you don’t want to do. Friends who act in ways you’d be ashamed to act. Friends who have a lot of wrong friends of their own. Friends who are always into some sort of mess.
Teens can sometimes try to make friends with the wrong people because they don’t really fit in with them or they might attract and tolerate people who aren’t so nice. Like most adults, teens also have “legacy” friends that may have worked at one stage of their life, but perhaps don’t as they get older.
Part Of Getting Better At Making Friends As A Teen Is Knowing When To Drop Friends That Aren’t So Nice
In our therapy practice, we find that teens, as well as adults, tend to radically underestimate just how much these “wrong” friends are dragging them down. Crummy friends tend to also have crummy friends, so teens are more likely to be surrounded by concentric circles of wrongness. Wrong friends can make teens feel bad and make them wonder if maybe they’re not such a great friend (and perhaps compel them to act like not such a good friend).
Learning to be selective, to stand up for oneself and to move on when a friendship isn’t working is a great developmental life skill. Learning it early, like in adolescence, brings advantages. Therapy can help in a lot of ways. Sometimes just talking through the social politics is essential. Often teens need help seeing with clarity just how wrong a friend is, even though it probably seems as if it was staring them in the face once it’s pointed out.
There’s also grief involved with dropping friends. Giving up on a wrong friend, no matter how wrong, is still a loss. In our therapy with teens, we provide an opportunity for teens to come to accept this change and work through the grief of parting ways.