Did you ever eat lunch alone when you were a tween or teen, while other students chortled about third period like a band of merry monkeys? Did you break out in a sweat as you scanned a crowded bus for a familiar and (hopefully) friendly face who might make room for you? Or arrive to school Monday morning only to hear everyone talking about that party you weren’t invited to? Can you recall the pain — like a bench press dropped on your chest — of a friend dissing you in front of others? Have you forgotten the hollow ache of dying to belong, the search for confidence, the paralyzing fear of invisibility, the painful sting of rejection?
Is your pulse rising as you relive these painful moments? Mine is. Do you recall those days and think, “If only I could change everything that happened?” I often do.
Why begin a discussion about helping our tween and teen daughters develop friends by unearthing some of our most uncomfortable memories? Because I don’t want us to dismiss our daughters’ need for relationship as a “girl thing,” “teen drama,” or “something she’ll grow out of.” If we’ll take a moment to travel back in time, we’ll remember that social connection was hardwired into the fabric of our basic needs, too, regardless of our gender. Perhaps it still is. The pain we experienced when we didn’t feel connected was real and formative. And our own kids are right in the thick of it — their relationships (or lack thereof) carry tremendous weight in this season of their lives.
Many parents know this. We sympathize with our children — especially those of us who barely made it through our own teenage years alive. Certainly, we want to help our girls develop skills that will ensure social capability and friendship success. But the question remains, how?
Core Qualities That Create Healthy Friendships
In my work with tweens and teens, I’ve observed three core qualities that enable young women to practice healthy and wise friendship boundaries. Though seemingly simple, these characteristics hold tremendous potential to set the stage for positive peer relationships now and in the future.
This is a trait grounded in the assurance that all people bear the image of God and possess a dignity and worth that can never be lost. Every girl is unique in the personality she conveys and the strengths she exhibits. Despite her differences, she is worthy of enduring friendships.
At a recent sporting event, I saw a cluster of women I knew from afar. Rather than watch the game alone, I decided to join them. I realized the group was already in conversation as I came near. I sort of stood off to the side, feeling suddenly awkward and self-conscious. Should I invite myself into the conversation? Keep walking? Pretend to be meeting someone else? Swallowing my panic, I listened for a polite moment to join the conversation, like waiting to pounce into the swirling arch of a jump rope during double-dutch — when you weren’t invited to play. Eventually, an opening presented itself. I took a deep breath, smiled, and jumped in. In that moment, I chose to practice what I have nicknamed insecure confidence.
Insecure confidence might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an essential quality for anyone who desires friends. I have yet to meet someone who does not — at least occasionally — question whether they’re witty enough, smart enough, chill enough, fun enough, or just plain cool enough in certain social settings. The difference between those who risk putting themselves out there and those who retreat into themselves lies in that very seeming contradiction: the confidence to act despite our insecurities.
My little sports encounter is nothing compared to the complex social situations our teen daughters face today. However, the concept is the same. Where have you seen your daughter be confident despite her fears? Tell her! If she struggles to be bold, come alongside her. You can help build her confidence in social settings by pointing out her strengths in private, encouraging her when she puts forth effort, and sharing ways in which you yourself have fought your insecurities to let them know who is boss.
Confidence enables us to risk rejection. Interestingly, it’s also a key ingredient in the second characteristic: selflessness.
On my website for teen girls, LifeLoveandGod.com, I receive loads of questions about friendship. Girls are craving companions to share life with. They want to know how to make friends, how to keep them, when to let go of them, and what to do when — gasp! — two friends like the same guy. I try to lend wisdom to each unique situation, scouring Scripture and encouraging prayer, but over the years I’ve realized that if I could boil down all the advice I’ve given into one word, it would start with self and end with less.
When we’re young, we tend to view the world as a galaxy orbiting around the bright star of “me.” (Who am I kidding? I often still do!) But successful friends cultivate the art of setting self aside and placing others first. Proverbs 11:25 tells us that those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. If we want to be refreshed, we should start by refreshing, or blessing others. Shower your friends with love and thanksgiving, and you will find that these virtues find their way back to you.
No matter her age, your daughter can begin practicing selflessness by:
- Telling others what she admires about them
- Offering her time — a precious resource!
- Being generous with her possessions
- Listening attentively
- Laughing easily
- Allowing herself to be inconvenienced
- Asking what she can do to be a good friend
As a bonus, friends who look to give first and receive second are on their way to becoming grounded friends. Grounded friendships are embedded in confidence and sustained through the years by selfless love.
Launch Into the Teen Years will get you and your teen talking.....
Do a favor for me. Notice that the title of the article doesn’t begin with the word “ensuring” or “guaranteeing.” The truth is, no matter how many tools we give our teen daughters (or have ourselves), friends aren’t guaranteed. Loneliness is a big part of many kids’ adolescent experiences.
I love meeting girls of all ages and hearing their stories. After taking a long walk with a positively amazing, heads-up woman in her early twenties, I made a surprising connection. As she shared that she had spent much of her teen years feeling isolated and lonely, I had this sudden sense of déja vu. It took a few moments, but I finally puzzled it out: Many (dare I say most?) of the joy-filled, contented, selfless, godly young women I’ve met coincidentally spent considerable time in their earlier years feeling lonely, different, and left-out from the social circles they wanted to belong to.
Does this mean we treat our teen daughter’s loneliness as a transient stage and tell her to grow up? Tell her, “Quit cryin’ — it’ll be good for you someday?” Of course not. But we can encourage her to hold fast to this incredible, true promise:
“…We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, HCSV).
The Lonely Seasons Won’t Last Forever
A girl grounded in her identity will still feel discouraged or sad when she doesn’t have the relational connections she craves, but a lack of friends won’t define her. And it won’t destroy her. And if our teen daughters are practicing confidence and selflessness, the lonely seasons certainly won’t last forever. I mean, look at us. Sure, we might still squirm in certain social situations in memory of the bitter aftertaste of the traumatizing teen social scenes we endured, but we lived to tell the tale. And our daughters will too.
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