Twelve Talks to
Have With Teens
Teen social relationships take place both in person and online, often using social media. Adults can’t control youth friendships, but you can be a role model for positive, respectful relationships and talk with youth about healthy friendships.
- Positive social connections help ensure healthy development, physically, socially and emotionally. Friendships play an important role in the lives of adolescents as they become increasingly independent and develop their own identity.
- Evidence suggests that positive friendships in adolescence can lay the groundwork for successful adult relationships, including romantic relationships.
- Most teens use some form of social media to build and maintain friendships. It’s important to stay involved in a way that makes teens understand that you respect their privacy but also want to make sure they’re safe.
- The number one place where teens learn about relationships is in their families. What they learn about building and maintaining relationships with parents and siblings has a lot of influence on how they find and get along with friends.
Hear what teens have to say about social media and friends. (3:13)
What do you find hardest about friendships?
I’m curious. How exactly does Snapchat (or Tik Tok) work?
What did you and your friends end up doing last night?
Seems like you haven’t mentioned your friends much lately, what’s going on with them?
What makes somebody a good friend?
What’s the hardest thing about juggling friendships & other stuff?
How do you and your friends have fun?
Not sure you like their friends? They may like people you might disapprove of, and finding out why they like them, in a non-judgemental way, could bring you closer and develop trust.
Discuss how your teen’s friend group handles standing up for each other, including: by de-escalating conflicts, by helping diffuse harassment or bullying in person and online, and by stopping unwanted sexual advances.
Talk about how you’ve handled peer pressure. Share times you’ve resisted peer pressure, and explain how you handled the situation. Be open to explaining times you were pressured into doing something and how it made you feel.
Acknowledge that your teen is likely lonely and not sure how to manage social relationships in the age of COVID-19. Talking to your teen about friendship issues, now that so much about socializing has changed, will not change your teens reality, but will help them think about strategies for coping, staying connected, and staying staff. Visit our Talk about COVID-19 page for more suggestions.
What could you do to know your teens’ friends better? Talk with your teen about ideas on how to get to know their friends. Most teens love food, and it can be a great way to get to know your teen’s friends. Ask if they want you to make or buy some food for friends who might want to come over, or if you can take their friends out for a meal together.
How well do you know their friends’ parents? If your teen is spending time, staying over or going on a trip with another family, call to check in with the parent/guardian who will be with the teens and make sure they know how to get in touch with you.
Does your family have a personalized “Safe to Tell” system? Start by helping your teen add contact information into their phone for an adult they would feel comfortable going to — in addition to you, or even instead of you — if they need guidance or are worried about a friend. For certain issues when they want to get law enforcement involved but remain anonymous, you or your teen might choose to call the Colorado Safe2Tell line (1-877-542-7233).
Do you role model sharing with each other about friendships? Let your teen know what you value in your own friendships. If you have a challenging or delicate situation with a colleague or friend, tell your teen about it and ask your teen for how they would handle it. You might be surprised by their insights, and model the idea of talking to each other about friendships.
Rules & Boundaries
An important boundary is knowing where your teen is and who they are with when they aren’t at home. Teens who report that their parents or guardians have this rule are less likely to use alcohol and other drugs.
Concerned that your teen isn’t following your rules regarding safer socializing with friends? Check out the ideas on our Boundaries page.
If a teen does not seem interested in having friends or is spending time in isolation, ask about it. Losing interest in friends may indicate a concern, so it may also be helpful to talk with teachers, their school counselor or others about your concerns.
If you are worried that your teen’s friend may be a negative influence, share your perspective in a non-threatening way. Focus on concerning behaviors instead of the friend’s personality/character as a whole. For example, instead of calling a friend irresponsible, you could point out the irresponsible behavior, explain why it is concerning and recommend ways to encourage healthy behavior changes. (On the other hand, if you think your teen or their friends might be in danger, call 911 or seek out one of the “Help” resources listed below.)
Teens gathering is healthy– drinking while gathering is not. In Jefferson County, most drinking often occurs in homes where there is little or no supervision. Take these steps to prevent a “house party” from occurring at your home.
Equity & Inclusion
Many schools have cliques based on race, ethnicity or social-economic status. Ask you teen, and their friends, if this is the case at their school and why. Then, together, think about ways to dismantle this tendency.
Group dynamics among friends are powerful. How does your teen counteract racism, homophobia or judgements about others income within their friend group or that their friend group is the victim of?
It’s normal for friends to talk to each other about crushes, relationships and sexual experiences. It’s not normal, or okay, for friends to not speak up if they are seeing or hearing about any nonconsensual sexual behavior or harassment.
Taking Action in your Community
Reduction of risk factors, and improvements in protective factors, can happen on multiple levels– within an individual, among friends and family, by adjusting systems in places like schools or businesses, and on the policy level for towns, counties or states. When improvements happen on all levels, our teens are most likely to thrive. Here are some policy and systems you and/or your teens might be able to influence:
- Find out what your children’s’ schools are doing to support Social Emotional Learning (SEL).
- Most Jeffco schools now have an SEL specialist. Email them and ask what they are doing to support healthy friendships among children– and see if you can get involved.
- Research your teen’s high school for a list of activities and clubs that are available, see example here.
- In Jeffco, the health education students receive varies by school, including including information about social-emotional learning and social connection.
- Ask your school how they are implementing health education for all students. Ask if the school knows about the district’s Health Education Policy and related resources. Ask/promote your teen to take a high school health education elective.
- Youth are likely to form more positive friendships when they have safe public spaces to gather. Where can teens gather in your community. How can those spaces be improved– more hours, better activities, lower cost? Or does your community need more spaces– and what organization, perhaps the city, town, school, nonprofits or rec districts might provide those
- Join Jeffco CTC to address local efforts that support youth.
- Some communities and schools allocate resources for safe spaces and activities where youth can connect with and make new friends, which helps reduce risky behaviors.
- Connect with your local city council, local leaders, libraries or rec centers to ask about how the community is supporting free or low-cost youth-friendly spaces and activities for all.
* Healthy Kids Colorado Survey 2019, Jefferson County data; **Jefferson County CTC Youth Town Hall data 2019, 2020 & 2021.
This resource is maintained with funding from a Coalitions Organizing For Prevention grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a Drug Free Communities Grant from the Centers for Disease Control. The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the grant providers.