How Do You Know If Your Teenager’s Friend Is A Good Fit?

by Becky on March 12, 2013 · 14 comments

in Parenting

Millay in Dutch shoes_8449

How do you know when your teenage son or daughter’s friend is a good fit? How do you know when a friend is really a friend? I’ve asked myself that question so many times! Moreover, as a mom of teens for nearly ten years now, I’ve had many opportunities to observe the various friends who’ve crossed my kids’ paths. Three things I’ve observed about genuine friends–a litmus, if you will.

One. A good friend will bring out the best in your child. In other words, your son or daughter will tend to be his/her best self around that friend, the effect sometimes lingering even after said friend has left. How do you measure this?–it’s observable! If your daughter, for example, seems lighter, brighter, happier, kinder (especially to siblings!), more connected to her dreams and gifts and sense of humor and generally to all the hopeful possibilities of her life, then that friend is a good one.

Two. A good friend will never undermine your parental authority or love by talking negatively to your teen about your family’s culture, rules, expectations, values, or anything else you hold dear. It’s that simple. Nor does a good friend use manipulation as a lever to get your teen to do anything that could be viewed as a rejection of family beliefs or infrastructure.  If a friend respects your family and what it stands for, then that friend is a good one.

Three. A good friend–either intuitively or consciously–strives to practice ‘compassionate joy.’ The concept was initially Buddhist but translates beautifully to any world view, the idea being that if your child succeeds, then the friend, too, desires to celebrate that success rather than resenting it or being envious of it. When life blesses your child, a good friend will feel delighted, not threatened. The friend capable of feeling compassionate joy is a good one.

If we’re using this litmus to thin-slice our teens’ friends, then we likewise ought to be actively encouraging our teenage sons and daughters to be that friend to others: working to bring out the best in their friends; respecting the family values of which their friends are a part; and being sincerely overjoyed when their friends’ lives take a brilliant turn.

I’ve watched my kids collide with all kinds of friends, and I’ve seen the results. Naturally, I nourish a particular affection for the friends who have proved over time to be an especially good fit. If you’ve got your own litmus, I would LOVE to hear about it! I am passionate about growing each other’s tool boxes and skill sets!

In an upcoming post: how to help your teens build solid friendships.

(Photo above: Miss Zinnia, trying out the fit of a pair of clogs in Haarlem, North Holland, while her older brother hears the siren call of gelato.)

Karen L March 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm

What a fantastic post. I totally intend to share this with my kids. It articulates so perfectly those things that I want them to think about when choosing their friends! (much better than I could)

One thing that I watch for and can appreciate about my kids’ friends is if they (the friend) are friendly to my other children and/or my husband and me. If they are sullen or rude to the other kids, then I would imagine that they are not encouraging my child to be his or her best self.

Becky March 12, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Wouldn’t it be great for a bunch of us to weigh in on this at length? I LOVE that you shared what you look for: whether the friend is kind and respectful to siblings and parents. The ‘kind-to-family’ test. The dynamics between our teens and their friends fascinates me–especially because of my experiences with all kinds of friends. Plenty of stories for another day. Or maybe another venue? I’m also interested in the ways in which good friends help strengthen our kids’ sense of self-identity, don’t you think? And likewise I’d love to talk about ways to minimize the effects of so-so friends on our kids’ sometimes fragile identities. I’ve said it before, but as always, you bring so much to the table. Thanks for sharing your ideas! Besitos.

RachelJL March 13, 2013 at 3:33 am

I love this post! I’m always trying to find ways for my kids to tell me more about their friends. I feel kind of helpless (as you can imagine) being so far away from them right now, but extremely grateful that their step mom has the same values as I do regarding these things. I think she may be more wise than me at recognizing good friendships for my kids.

I loved this in particular, and find it so true: “If your daughter, for example, seems lighter, brighter, happier, kinder (especially to siblings!), more connected to her dreams and gifts and sense of humor and generally to all the hopeful possibilities of her life, then that friend is a good one.” My son has been blessed with some great friends in high school, and I think it’s helped him be kinder to his sister and step sisters than he was in Middle School. I’m sure maturity has had something to do with that, too, but his high school friends all seem responsible and respectful. I really think that, like you mentioned, it’s helped him feel like he can be the best he can be as himself, and not feel like he has to be someone else. I love how when I went to pick him up from a friend’s house last summer and lost my keys in the car while waiting for him, that suddenly there were five teenage boys with flashlights and cell phone flashlights out trying to help me find those keys. Not a murmur or a complaint among them, just a desire to help.

All these things sound like things we adults need to look for, too! Friends who encourage us to be good parents, to love our kids (and/or spouse) etc. I love the term “compassionate joy.” I hadn’t yet heard a good, concise term for that. I have a long-term friend that I sometimes struggle with the idea as to whether or not she’s good for me, because when certain good things have happened to me, she seems to pull away in jealousy. It’s not a problem I’ve had with very many friends, so I don’t know how to deal with it.

Anyway, thanks for giving me something to think about while insomnia accompanies me once again.

Becky March 13, 2013 at 4:45 am

Rachel, thank you so much for weighing in. I LOVE to hear from other moms about their experiences with their teens and everything related to the business of raising them. Your son and his friends, helping you find your keys: there’s a great thumbnail sketch of friendship right there!–Fun With Flashlights while doing something gentlemanly. May you rest better tonight . . .
Besitos.

Becky March 13, 2013 at 5:08 am

Rachel, I wanted to respond to your comment about the friend who struggles with ‘compassionate joy,’ on some level resenting when good things happen for you. Here’s a thought. If you find yourself reluctant to tell her about the nice things that come your way because she seems reluctant to acknowledge that they should have, that can be a drain, yeah? Maybe take a minute to think about why she has so much trouble being happy for you, and whether the relationship might beneftit from taking a different shape. Not saying you ought to ditch her. Just suggesting some new ‘infrastructure,’ as it were. Maybe you can (kindly) economize: save your stories of your own joys for those who can feel them right along with you. Just a thought. Nothing wrong with privately re-working relationship boundaries once in a while, practicing kindness while at the same time being conscious of how friends’ energies feed into/affect yours. Also nothing wrong with actively seeking out people who hitch your smile up a little. Or a lot.

RachelJL March 15, 2013 at 3:11 am

Thanks Becky, that’s wise advice. It’s hard to get advice on that from others (without revealing the friend in question) without them saying “you don’t need her.” I really like the idea of a change of infrastructure! That’s what I’ve been doing while trying to decide what to do about the problem in the long run.

And thanks again for your fun blog. :)

Laurel Evans March 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm

LOVE the new design!

Becky March 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Why, Miss Primrose! As I live and breathe! We miss you here at the loft! Look at me–I’m all exclamation marks at the loveliness of hearing from you!! Besitos! (You know how now!)

Courtney March 15, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I love this post! I actually had been thinking about this very topic recently…although I have quite a bit of time before my son is old enough for me to really have to worry about this. But I absolutely love your observations and thoughts!

Becky March 16, 2013 at 2:03 am

Courtney, what would your criteria have been, if you were defining “good friend” back when you were in high school? I’m always curious to know what women in the younger set think, and that time wasn’t so long ago for you. Generally speaking, what kinds of friends would you encourage girls my daughters’ ages to seek out?–steer clear of? Really, I’d love to know your thoughts. xx

RachelJL March 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Have you seen these yet? Apparently your blog post was rather timely. 😉

From the newest Ensign:
http://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/04/the-importance-of-good-friends?lang=eng

From the newest New Era:
http://www.lds.org/new-era/2013/04/what-is-a-true-friend.p1?lang=eng

Becky March 28, 2013 at 1:09 am

Rachel, I haven’t seen the articles yet but am eager to check them out today. Thanks for posting links! I love how current you are. xx

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