This is the last part of our series on friendships from ages ten to fifteen. Today, we are jumping into looking at the fourteen-year-old ( which is often a much better time than being thirteen and hiding in one’s room) and the fifteen-year old.
It can be really important to some fourteen-year-olds to really belong to a group, but some may need help untangling and being untangled from a group. This is the age where the girls especially really want to fit in to some elusive and sometimes exclusive group. She may pick friends or even a best friend that she has no shared interests with, and not a lot of connection even, but just feels that person is for whatever reason now her good friend. She may try to join into a group or clique just to be a part of it without really having a great connection to those people. Criticism or discussion of different friends begins in earnest this year, noticing the differences or social problems of varying friends or people at school. However, fourteen-year-olds are generally better about talking about things that have gone badly between them and a friend and trying to restore the friendship rather than the thirteen-year-old who just lets the friendship drift away.
Boys often have a bit of any easier time. They still may hang around in a gang; they may or may not have a “best” friend and they may or may not care at all about that. They do choose friends that they like rather than shared activities. Often they still hang out with neighborhood friends, whereas girls may be done with that around this age. Some fourteen-year-old boys still don’t have many friends, or only one friend they really like, and that is certainly okay as well.
What you can do to help: Girls in particular often want to feel “accepted” and hence start looking to their own place to belong away from their family. I think based on the family as the first and most important unit of socialization, it could be important to let teenagers know that siblings can be close friends, and that the family is such an important thing outside of friendship.
Talk about cliques and groups. Talk about conflict mediation and conflict resolution. Talk about how being an individual, and about diversifying friends and encouraging friendships outside of the clique with a different group. Talk about bullying and social exclusion if you think that is going on, and how and why to be an includer if your child has a temperament that lends itself to that. This article talks about dealing with cliques and this article has 8 tips for dealing wtih cliques.
Fifteen-year-olds often have less emphasis on cliques, although many are still influenced by their friends in regards to clothing choice, music, etc. Some fifteen-year-olds (and this is where your boundaries as parents are important!) may be pairing off into romantic relationships that are occupying more of their time than their friends. A deeper capacity for caring and sharing may exist than before. Mature friends can accept differences between one another and can maintain closeness despite separation or time. They also can juggle several close friends and no one feels threated by that. I feel this often comes AFTER the fifteen/sixteen change. Right before this change, I think there can often be a big shake-up in friends – teachers have noticed that for years the fifteen year old year (what is typically sophomore year in American high schools), often sees their students have a big change in friends. This can also be a time of feeling restless and lonely and depressed, which may also change after the fifteen/sixteen year change is complete.
Your fifteen-year-old may be more likely to seek out advice from friends than from you, the parent. Therefore, part of dealing with these friendships and even romanatic relationships outside of the family is putting a priority on the family. Family days, family traditions, are all still very, very important. It is a source of stability that many teens can’t even really put into words, but do still value.
What you can do: Hopefully you have many talks with your children by this point as to how to be a friend, how to mediate conflict, how to apologize, how to recognize bullying or aggression and how to cope with stresses. You are really preparing them for what comes after this fifteen/sixteen year change and as they become more and more independent and perhaps bring less to you regarding interpersonal conflicts. Junior and senior years of high school are really the young adult phase where you are letting go, being there, giving that right amount of space where guidance exists.