Teens and their friends. It’s a very emotional topic!
Some parents wish their teens had different friends. Other parents wish their teens had more friends.
Whenever this subject comes up, it reminds me of something I learned from one of my mentors, Byron Katie. In her teachings, she talks a lot about the importance of “minding your own business”.
Whose business is it if I am feeling happy or sad? My business.
Whose business is it if you are feeling happy or sad? Your business.
Whose business is the weather? God’s business. (Anything that’s out of my control, your control, and everyone else’s control like earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die—she calls that God’s business.)
So, according to Byron Katie, when I think, “You need to (xyz),” or, “You should/shouldn’t (xyz),” I am in your business.
(Hint: One way to tell that you’re in someone else’s business is when the advice you are itching to give has not been asked for and is not welcome.)
Examples of staying in “My business”
According to Byron Katie, much of our stress comes from mentally living outside of our own business.
In order to stay stress free (and to allow others –like your teen–to live and learn in a way that is good for their own growth and development), you must stay in your OWN BUSINESS.
In my work as a parenting coach, I talk to many parents of teens or young adults who are confused about what is their business, versus what is actually NOT. Here’s what I tell them:
I can relate to how they feel though. As a parent, I found it really hard to stay out of my son’s business, especially when it came to who he chose as friends.
One of the reasons for this was because I believed the quote I once heard: “We become like our friends.” I worried constantly that my son seemed to be surrounded by kids who were constantly in trouble, who didn’t do well in school, and who seemed to have no positive future goals. I believed/feared that if he hung out with that “kind” of kid, he would end up “just like them”–not the life I wanted for him.
It turns out my fears as a parent are pretty common. Recently, the issue of friends has come up in my conversations with other parents too:
One mom of a son who is a freshman in college was very concerned that he had a lot of friends online who were “social outcasts” and “odd”, that he had a few friends in “real life” but she wanted to know how she could get him to make more off-line and drop the ‘weird ones’ on-line.
Another mom of a son who is a senior in high school wanted to know how to help him with his “nonexistent social life.” (She said that he had a few close friends, but his lack of a large social circle with lots of activities was “heartbreaking” for her.)
I understand that these moms want the very best for their sons. But they were both clearly meddling in their sons’ business, as evidenced by the fact that neither son wanted or needed any “help”–both sons are fine with the way things are; neither had expressed a desire to get help making more friends and neither had expressed unhappiness with their friendship situations.
The problem was in their moms’ minds: because of fears, worries and beliefs about the way they thought things “should” be.
What I told these moms is something I’ve come to believe strongly over the years since raising my sons:
The boys in the above examples didn’t feel like they had a problem. The only ones with the problem were the moms–Both mother believed that ‘things would be so much better for their sons if they did x,y,z’–but just because they believed that more/different friends would be “better”, it is not necessarily true.
Here’s the thing about some teens (like these boys in the above example)…many don’t feel like they need or want a bunch of friends. Many teens are content with one or two deep connections and are comfortable (and even sometimes prefer) more quiet time and solitary pursuits. What one person considers “social isolation” may just be introversion and a preference for solitude. This is not an indication that there is something to be fixed; it’s just the way some people are wired.
As for the fear about “We become who are friends are,” I think a more accurate statement to consider is, “We become friends with those who are like us.” Our friends are our mirrors, reflecting back our own inner and outer worlds.
Although many friendship connections come about due to shared experiences, like being in a class together, or at the same job, or because we enjoy the same interests/hobbies, the deeper connections we make are generally with people we gravitate to because they reflect back to us our own beliefs, self-concepts, etc. We feel like kindred spirits because we are experiencing the same emotional issues in our lives (like a divorce or other trauma) and/or are in the same place emotionally.
The good news/bad news is that life-long friendships do happen, but they are rare. Typically, when experiences change (like graduation, or switching jobs) or when we change or grow emotionally, then usually, so does our circle of friends. So if you don’t like your teen’s friends, chances are, all you have to do is wait and time will take care of it.
It has to happen organically; it its own time, in its own way. It’s not something that can’t be forced.
My son tells me now that all I did back then when I urged him to find different friends was draw him even closer to his friends as a way of defending them and himself (because after all, when I criticized them, I was in fact criticizing him.)
I know it’s hard to be patient and let our kids learn and grown in their own way and in their own time. But consider the alternative: every time we try to mind their friendship business, all we will get is stress, rebellion and resentment. That benefits no one, and will only end up hurting our relationship with our kids.
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And if you would like to learn my step by step process for feeling less stress and more calm no matter what your teen does or doesn’t do, click HERE!