Teen friendships: Finding True Belonging and Connection in the Digital Age

Friendships are an important part of your teen’s development.  Teenagers find so much of their identity in their friendships and peer groups. It is a time when they pull away from parents and invest in their friend groups.  Teenagers, like all of us are wired for belonging and connection and yet more than ever before social media and online platforms are changing how teens interact.

Few Facts:

-57 percent of teenagers have met a new friend on line

-Teens use their devices for 9 hours a day

-Teens are seeking connection and measuring their worth based on what they see on line

-Cyber-bullying is on a rise

-Teens are sharing intimate details about their mental health and sexual relationships on line

– Teenagers have instant access to people around the world at their fingertips

Soooooo……How do we help as parents to build connection through true vulnerability, the courage to show up, and being seen in the digital age?

Although your teen may be pushing you away, they need you more than ever.  As a parent, you can:

  1. Talk to your teen about maintaining safety online.  Many parents have shared with me their concern about what their teen is sharing online. It’s important to have hard conversations about what is being shared and to whom.
  2. Talk openly about the realities of social media and the importance of maintaining boundaries.  Teens can find themselves over sharing behind a screen because it feels safe, but that’s not true vulnerability.  Brene Brown discusses vulnerability as “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy courage, empathy, and creativity.”
  3. Validate their feelings when your teen feels “less than” through comparison to filtered online photos.  For teenagers, carefully edited or filtered pictures on social media can mask issues behind an image of perfection.  Let your teen know that they are enough. Sometimes social media feeds can become fuel for the negative feelings they have for themselves.  Teenagers view social media through the lens of their own lives; if your teen is already struggling with low self-esteem and low self-worth, they’re more likely to interpret images of peers having fun as confirmation that they’re somehow “less than.” 
  4.  If your teen is being bullied online, let them know you’ll listen and validate them.  I hear parents telling teens to “just get over it” if bullying occurs. It’s not that simple. Now, pictures can be sent by the click of a button and it will reach hundreds of people before they can even get to the next class. It is important to acknowledge and protect unhealthy communication on line.
  5. Let your teen know the importance of telling an adult when a friend is reporting suicidal thoughts online.  Many times, teens are afraid of telling an adult when a friend is reporting suicidal thoughts – they don’t want to betray a friend’s trust.  However, letting your teen know that it is not their responsibility; by telling an adult, your teen’s friend will get the support and help he or she needs.
  6. Provide structure and time limits to their devices.
  7. Encourage your teen to plan activities and create face-to-face interactions
  8. Lastly, help teach your teenager how and who to trust through the marble jar analogy.  Brene Brown says, “People have to earn the right to hear your story.” Your teenager can use the idea of the “Marble Jar Friend” to help define whom in their world to trust.  In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, discusses the concept of Marble Jar Friends.  She tells a story of her daughter’s teacher who kept a jar in the classroom.  Each time the class did something positive, a marble went in the jar.  When the class did something negative, a marble was removed.  For teenagers, learning who to trust online and in life, can be a hard and painful journey.  A marble jar friend is someone who keeps your story sacred, follows through on plans, listens and shows empathy as well as invites you to do things.  Conversely, your teen can remove marbles when: a friend does not tell the truth, gossips, or bails on plans to hang out.  Small and sometimes inconsequential things can lead to trust and a full marble jar.  The courage to be vulnerable leads to trust and connection in relationships.  Teaching your teen who their marble jar friends are can help them form true connection in relationships.   

I would be happy to help support your teen and family through any life season you may be in!

Katie Perkins