Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Peers Have Great Influence On Teens

April 25, 2005

Where would children be without their friends? How important they are!

Some of the most unhappy times teens go through are during those temporary times when they perceive themselves as friendless. No matter what other good things are happening to them, the lack of friends hurts to the core.

At those times, it seems that no matter how much concern and love parents show, the opinions of peers seem to matter more. Friends occupy such an important place in children's lives.

Vital preparation. One of the main tasks of development, during the teen-age years, is the making and keeping of friends. It is a vital preparation for having successful adult relationships. Even dating relationships, if kept in proper focus, are experiments in opposite sex friendships.

In a way, a teen's choice of friends represent a litmus test of their values and standards. Parents reach a certain comfort zone when their children choose friends with similar values and standards. The quality of their friends is a positive influence in their lives.

They reinforce each other in their goals, talents and activities. It is special when they help each other out. When their values start to differ, friendships start to change or fade.

We have been glad for our children’s friendships. From an adult perspective, raising teenagers may be a lot of hassle - incessant phone calls, guests in the home, waiting up, noise, chauffeuring, and pushing at limits.

Friends also make their world bearable. Teens can complain about unreasonable parents, sort out attitudes and goals, and share inner pain and worries. Friendships offer an emotional outlet for the troubles of their world.

Friends bring energy and excitement. It’s also a lot of fun - a lot of teen-age energy, exuberance, excitement, giggling, laughter and special occasions. Their friends make their world enjoyable and fun - and brings some excitement into parent’s lives as well.

It is heart-warming when friends have gone out of their way for our children - birthdays, graduations, dances, ball games, homecomings, decorated rooms, thoughtful surprises, doing things together. And vice-versa.

These are great memories. A few of these friends may turn out to be lifetime friends. When our children leave home, not only do we miss them but we miss their friends. That is the way it should be.

Unfortunately, it isn't all smooth sailing. Children resist being uprooted from their friends. Moves are hard on them. After a move, a child will be distressed and unhappy until he or she makes a new friend. Then magically, everything is OK. Friends make the difference.

The world of teen-age friendships can be cruel and fickle as parents can testify. Friends can fight. A social world can be turned upside down overnight. Suddenly the tables are turned and a support system crumbles.

Older friends graduate. A best friend moves away. When a steady dating relationship breaks up, a son or daughter may find that their old compatriots have moved on to new friendships.

Rejection and humiliation. The teen world can also be cruel and vindictive. A vulnerable young person may be targeted by a popular youth or a former friend for abuse and rejection.

Teens judge other's social value and how it might reflect on their own social standing. Being a nerd, being unaware of what is socially acceptable can result in the ultimate teen-age put-down.

It doesn't even take being treated like a nerd to challenge one's self-esteem. Just not being at the center of the "in-group" is enough to create doubts about one's social worth.

Some teens bear the daily humiliation of being put down, of being judged as inferior, of being ignored, of being alone, of feeling lonely and of being left out. To be friendless as a teenager is to go through great emotional pain. They seek out those who accept and value them as they are.

Social rejection combined with struggles in a competitive school environment can push some young people into a defensive identification with others who feel the same way they do. They cry out for respect and dignity - someplace to go, a friend to be with, a friend to talk to, a friend who likes them, a friend who feels they are special. They will find this acceptance where they can.

Teens can take responsibility. It would be a wonderful world if teens would reach out to shy youth, recognize them, draw them out, and include them. They could accomplish more good by doing this than almost any other social cause they could undertake.

It would be a wonderful world if teens treated one another with respect and dignity. No labeling. No name calling. No bullying. No humiliation. No building oneself up at another's expense.

Even if they can't be a friend to everyone, they don't need to be a part of the problem. They don't need to gossip, scorn, isolate, tear down or be intentionally cruel to a fellow classmate.

Is it asking too much for teens busy trying to find themselves and define their own worth to be aware of the needs of those around them? If they can do this, they will have taken important steps will have taken important steps toward being a mature, caring adult someday.