F is for friends who do stuff together, according to the wise SpongeBob SquarePants. And he couldn’t be more right.
The importance of friendship can’t be overstated, especially in the teenage years. With all that goes on on social media, there’s constant pressure to stay on trend. That may leave your child finding it difficult to know how to make friends as a teenager.
The consequences? Loneliness is on the rise and a hit on their mental health.
That’s where you, as a parent, come in—by helping them navigate the complexities of teenage friendships.
The thing is, it’s not always easy being a teen. But your tips and advice can help them find a true friend like SpongeBob’s buddy, Patrick Star.
Why Is It Hard for Teens to Make Friends?
Ah, the teenage years—it’s a roller coaster of emotions, growth spurts, and the never-ending quest for the perfect social circle. Add on factors like social media, academic pressure, and self-esteem issues, and it’s no wonder why it’s so challenging to figure out how to make friends as a teenager.
A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 36% of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 reported feeling lonely or isolated at times. It’s a sentiment that even the ever-so-popular underwater sponge and his pals might experience from time to time.
But what’s causing this surge in loneliness among kids and teens? Let’s break it down.
- Social media is a double-edged sword, really. It offers a convenient way to stay in touch. However, it also fosters a culture of superficial connections and FOMO (fear of missing out). This makes it all the more difficult for teens to form deep, real-life friendships.
- Academic pressure is a race for good grades and college admissions. The unfortunate part is that it leaves little time for genuine social interactions, particularly for homeschooled teenagers.
- Self-esteem and social anxiety. Adolescence is a time of self-discovery, but it’s also a time of awkwardness. This can leave many young people feeling too shy or insecure to initiate friendships, which can really crank up their social anxiety.
“We all shy away for different reasons,” says global educator Gahmya Drummond-Bey in Mindvalley’s Creating Friendship and Deep Connections for Teens Quest and Be Extraordinary for Teens Quest. “A lot of the time, it’s because we’ve had negative experiences before or fears that create negative self-talk in our minds.”
By understanding the hurdles your teen faces, you can help them overcome these obstacles and find their own Bikini Bottom-eque group of friends. Because, as SpongeBob has shown us, genuine connections can be found in the most unexpected places—and that’s a lesson worth learning for you and your teen alike.
How to Make Friends as a Teenager
Opening up to other people, especially if they’re strangers, can be downright terrifying. And doing it in the adolescent years, with raging hormones and trying to understand their place in life, can really make finding true friends a challenge.
With that being said, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are a few ways your teen can try to create meaningful social connections:
- Join a club or a sports team. According to research, experiences can create more happiness than material possessions. So if your teen is part of a club or team, it can help them relate to the others in the group and give them a shared sense of purpose.
- Volunteer. Encourage your teen to find a cause they’re passionate about; for example, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, Habitat for Humanity, or even Mindvalley University. Not only does volunteering provide an opportunity to meet new people, but it also cultivates empathy and a sense of fulfillment.
- Be proactive. Sometimes, it takes a little doing on your part as a parent, so find another teen who takes the same route to school as your child and put together a carpool. Or encourage them to invite a classmate over after school, go to a movie or concert, or explore a new part of town together.
- Learn how to communicate. Teach your teen to actively listen and practice empathy, much like SpongeBob’s best friend, Patrick. This includes making eye contact, using body language, and asking questions.
- Focus on personal growth. Relationships start with oneself, according to Vishen, founder of Mindvalley. So get your teen to get in tune with their inner self so they can develop their emotional intelligence.
Making friends is a journey. And as a parent, it’s important to encourage your teen to stay open-minded and patient.
Need inspiration? Here’s one from Anne-Sophie Reinhardt, a Mindvalley Member from Germany, and her son:
“After a couple of hours of feeling intimidated by all the English speaking wild other children, feeling insecure in his own English abilities, and yes, asking me to go straight back home again, he completely blossomed.
Day after day, he got more confident, running around Kultuurikatel with the other children, making friends for life, and falling in love with the team.”
Possible Challenges to Making Friends as a Teenager
Chances are, your teen has tried to make friends. But sometimes there are obstacles they’re dealing with, and these scenarios can be overwhelming for them.
Here are some common challenges that can really get in the way of your teen making friends.
- Social anxiety. This is something many teens experience, making them feel too shy or anxious to start a conversation with their peers. But as Patrick says in SpongeBob SquarePants, “Sometimes, we have to go deep inside ourselves to solve our problems.”
To help your teen through this, encourage them to practice deep breathing, mindfulness, and positive self-talk techniques, like affirmations.
- Bullying. The unfortunate truth is, bullying can happen to anyone at any age. In fact, 20% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 experience bullying, according to a 2019 report by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Talk to your teen and offer them emotional support. Moreover, work with their school to address the bullying, so that they’ll have a safe environment to socialize.
- Relocation. Whether it’s moving to a new place or changing schools, know that this can be really stressful for your teen. They’ve had to leave their group of friends behind and start looking for new ones.
Encourage them to join clubs or participate in after-school activities as networking, so to speak, so they can meet new friends. And thanks to social media, remind them that they can still keep in contact with their old friends.
Take Andy Kaul, another Mindvalley Member, for example:
“I came with few expectations for my son and am still blown away by the amazing developments he and other kids made in Barcelona at Mindvalley University.
Interacting with this crowd of high energy, loving, accepting, and supportive people boosts kids confidence and opens them to topics and experiences (meditation, healthy eating patterns, social engagement, the artist in you, compassion, consciousness, etc.) that parents can wish for their kids but struggle to convey in daily life.”
By motivating and encouraging your teen to cultivate the right mindset, they can come out stronger and more confident than ever before.
5 Ways You Can Help Your Teen Make Friends
It’s no secret that you, as a parent, play a crucial role in helping your child navigate their adolescence. Sure, you can sit on the sidelines and let them go through trial and error. But sometimes, they need you to have their backs, even when it comes to their social connections.
Turning to Gahmya’s expertise from her Mindvalley Quest, here are five ways you can help your child learn how to make friends as a teen, both in and outside of school.
1. Show them how to break the brules
The term “brules” is Vishen’s creation. It’s short for “bullsh*t rules,” which are the limiting beliefs that we’ve accepted as true without question.
“Getting straight A’s is the goal of high school” or “being famous is the epitome of being successful” are just a few examples of this idea. However, we know that the school-college-job-marriage path doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.
These brules typically stem from five things: childhood indoctrination, authority figures, the need to belong, social proof, and internal insecurities. But they’re not absolute, so it’s important to question what the brules are and break them.
How to break the brules: Ask your teen to write down all the brules they may be experiencing and discuss with them how they can healthily step outside of those beliefs. Show them how to take small steps to do so, and celebrate their progress along the way.
You can also do this exercise with them so you can share your own experience breaking the brules and relate it to your teen.
2. Guide them to find their connection language
Being able to make friends in school is one thing, but learning how to make friends as a homeschooled teenager is another. That’s why connection language is especially important for kids and teens.
Gahmya explains that it’s about…
- Being seen when you feel invisible,
- Being heard when you feel like your opinions just don’t matter,
- Feeling adored when you feel like no one just pays you any attention or understands how special you are,
- Feeling valued when you feel so unimportant and no one really pays attention to your special talents and gifts, and
- Being supported when you feel like you’re doing everything by yourself.
“Connection languages are so powerful,” says Gahmya. “And it’s great to understand how to connect with others, but it’s a superpower and a healing power when you understand how to help other people to connect more deeply with you.”
How to find the connection language: Get your teen to take a connection languages quiz, created by Gahmya. When your teen is able to connect through one of these things, it helps them feel loved. And that allows them to thrive.
3. Encourage them to embrace being awkward
Let’s be real: things aren’t always super simple when it comes to connecting with people. And for your teen, making mistakes or being awkward may just be in the back of their minds as try to make friends.
This could lead to negative self-talk, which is “a thought that we tell ourselves that prevents us from doing something that we enjoy or that may hurt us,” as Gahmya explains.
But remind them that these are just thoughts and it’s okay to be themselves. As your child learns how to embrace their true selves and accept that their awkwardness is part of who they are, it’ll be easier for them to know how to make friends as a teenager.
How to embrace being awkward: Gahmya suggests using the emotional freedom technique, or EFT for short. She explains that with this technique, you say what you really feel while you tap the tapping points.
“If you feel like ‘no one wants to talk to me,’ you say that,” she explains. “But you say, even though, and [that feeling], I still completely love and accept myself.”
For example, “Even though I’m afraid of being vulnerable, I still completely love and accept myself.” And as your teen repeats this over and over again, they tap, tap, tap out the jitters and limiting beliefs.
4. Teach them how to build friendship currency
“Your friends will always be your greatest currency,” says Gahmya. What does that mean, though?
It’s about the value your child brings to a friendship. It could be being a good listener, offering emotional support, playing the same sports, and so on.
The thing is, many children think that they can make friends at any time. However, “the more special friendships [they] have,” Gahmya explains, “the better [their] life is.”
Because there’s a difference between friends who’ve really got your teen’s back through thick and thin and those who’re there just for a season. It’s like SpongeBob and Patrick versus SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs.
How to build friendship currency: Research has shown that shared experiences make us happier than material possessions. So instead of getting them the latest gadget, encourage your child to get into things that they can share with others, like playing an instrument, cooking, or playing video games.
This can help them build deeper connections with their peers, especially if they’re learning how to make friends as a teenager outside of school.
5. Inspire them to find their earth angels
Earth angels are people who come into our lives at just the right time and provide us with the support we need. According to Gahmya, they help us feel valued and important.
So who are your teen’s earth angels? For most, it’s family members, but friends can play the role too.
However, many teens tend to stick to their own kind. But research shows that people who made new friends reported greater happiness and life satisfaction. So try to encourage your child to expand their social circle.
How to find the earth angels: To help your teen find out who their earth angels are, get them to sit down and answer these questions:
- Who is someone I could turn to if I made the biggest mistake of my life?
- Who is someone whose advice I absolutely trust?
- Who is someone who always speaks positivity to me?
- Who is someone who pushes me to be my best self?
- Who is someone I can laugh and play with?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be one person; it can be a few. But the main thing is, your child should feel safe and be their true self around their earth angel(s).
Life’s a Trip, Choose Great Friends
If there’s something that can be learned by watching SpongeBob and his pals, it’s this: everyone can create meaningful connections that last a lifetime, including your teen. And as a parent, your support and guidance can make all the difference.
Mindvalley University is a great place for them to do so. There are programs specifically geared toward teens to help them come into their own in this world.
Here’s what one previous attendee had to say about it:
Taking my son with me to Mindvalley University this year has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. He made friends and learned a lot about himself, about a new culture, and about traveling.— Steffani Fort LeFevour, author of You Are a Badass Mom
Additionally, there are also great resources for your teen on Mindvalley, such as the Creating Friendships and Deep Connections for Teens and Be Extraordinary for Teens quests.
There’s nothing more amazing than having a SpongeBob-like experience as an adolescent. And that’s something you can give your teen at Mindvalley.