Encouraging positive teen relationships

Teens can encourage each other to care about people, meet high standards and participate in positive activities.

As my sons were growing up, there was a neighbor child who was about five years younger than my boys. He loved hanging around with “the guys.” He worshiped the ground they walked on and felt special to be in their company. With that in mind, I had to remind my sons, regularly, that they were role models to Drew. What they said and did made an impression on him. Opportunities like this provided us many discussions about how they can have a positive effect on others by the decisions they made when around other kids.

One of the important aspects of healthy teen development is positive peer influence. Positive peer influence refers to kids as being good role models for other kids. Teens, through words and behavior can encourage each other to care about people, meet high standards and participate in positive activities. Like a successful football team that cooperates to achieve mutual goals, responsible teen behaviors is supported and encouraged by a team of trustworthy, capable friends.

Teens who become involved with a positive friend also gain opportunities to develop “interpersonal competence.” Interpersonal competence involves having the skills to get along with and appreciate others. Like football players who need a team to test their abilities, teens need friends to help them gain knowledge about themselves and to learn about the uniqueness of others. A variety of friendship experiences teach teens how to build successful relationships, handle conflict and contribute to the lives of others. Teens are bound to experience many joys and challenges among friends, but parents can play an important role in understanding their positive and negative experiences. Although parents cannot choose a teen’s friends, parents can help teens understand the values and skills that will help them form positive relationships.

The best relationships for teens are those based on mutual respect and caring. What teens need most from parents is nonjudgmental guidance on how to build and maintain friendships.

Parents should teach teens that real friendships involve two people who understand and respect each other, care and take responsibility for each other, expect good from each other, and solve problems together without blame or manipulation. Such guidance will help young people commit to those friends who share their values. Teens also should learn that a relationship is harmful if one partner uses emotional or physical power to control or put down others.

Michigan State University Extension offers a program called Building Strong Adolescents (BSA) that provides parents and caregivers tips and tools on caring for pre-teens and teens. For a class near you go to http://msue.anr.msu.edu/events. Starting fall 2014 BSA will be offered as an online course. Stay tune!

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