Secondary school can be a jungle. For some it may provide lifelong friendships; for others it can be a muddle of tricky relationships with their peers and perhaps even bullying.
As parents we can feel somewhat helpless. We are unable to directly involve ourselves in the day-to-day goings on at school and our kids may seem emotionally distant. With teens spending so much of their time communicating on social media, we can also be unaware of potentially damaging interactions.
So what can we do to ensure our kids have positive friendships, and feel supported by us when things go wrong?
How to support your teen
Suggest a varied social group
Encourage your teen to move in mixed friendship groups of boys and girls.
Bring them in to your home
Invite your child’s friends to your home often. Get to know them and be welcoming.
Define clear boundaries of behaviour for your child, for example where they are allowed to go without you. Make your expectations clear and emphasise the need for honesty and trust.
Keep control of their movements
Set clear rules about outings with friends – who they are going out with, where to, and most importantly when they will return. Allow your child to negotiate fairly with you. Clearly state the non-negotiable rules.
Be firm on rules
Respond firmly to rule-breaking. Boundaries are healthy fence-posts for kids to know their limits.
Understand their feelings and friendships
Talk to your child when you find them getting close to a particular friend and ask about what draws them to each other.
Keep things loving and supportive
Maintain a trusting and warm relationship with your child, as then it leaves little room for secret plans. A strong parent-child relationship is vital for making your child feel accepted and appreciated. If those needs are not met by their parents, the child will easily respond to anyone else who makes them feel wanted and important. Therefore, aim to avoid being critical of their friends and forgiving of their mistakes.
Steer clear of judgements
Avoid judging and condemning their friends for their behaviours. It does not necessarily mean that your child will do the same. However, let your child know that they can talk to you freely about what goes on. Give them the confidence to confide in you. If there is a falling out between friends, encourage them to discuss the issue with you and to not take sides if possible.
Educate them on respect
Teach your child about self-respect and their right to be respected; and why it’s important to pull away from a disrespectful friendship.
Expect a few mistakes, when you give freedom with limits. Be forgiving.
Keeping an eye on social media
It can be worrying as a parent when your child has a whole other world of peers that you have no knowledge of on social media. We know how damaging social media can be for kids- not only from a bullying perspective but also in forming fears about how they come across or their appearance. Here are some tips to help them converse with others on social media in a healthy way.
Lead by example
If there is a culture in your house of being glued to social media then this will likely be the behaviour of your child too.
Ask your child to show your their favourite social media apps. This will help you them and potential problems that may arise. You can discuss with your child any concerns you have.
Keep them safe
If you think your child is using an inappropriate app or speaking to others inappropriately then state your case as to why, listening to their feedback. Ensure you discontinue their use of it if it seems concerning.
Keep on top of negative interactions
Ask your teen regularly if they’ve been sent unpleasant messages. If they have and they are upset or worried about it, have an open conversation. Stay calm and help them to block nasty messages/ people online.
Online friends = not real friends
Explain that online ‘friends’ are actually strangers, and that your child shouldn’t feel they have to discuss things they’re not comfortable with.
Look at the privacy settings on social media apps from time to time, and who they’re friends with.
Be there for them
Encourage them to talk to you about things said online. Even if it seems a trivial matter, it can help to discuss it.
If they are experiencing unkindness and bullying from school friends online, help them block the messages and report the perpetrators to their school. The school’s pastoral team can work to help support your child and deal with the problem.