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Ever heard the old song that goes, “I get by with a little help from my friends”? It isn’t just a catchy tune: We need companionship to get by and thrive. “Social connection is a basic human need,” says Sheri Van Dijk, a therapist and author of Relationship Skills 101 for Teens. “We need friends to feel happy and healthy.” Now, scientists are realizing that having close friendships during the teen years is even more important than they thought. A new study shows that teens who had one close friendship—rather than a big group of buds they don’t know as well—had a greater sense of self-worth at 25, meaning that bestie-ship has long-lasting benefits. How can you be the awesome friend your amazing friends deserve? Check it out.
HOW WOULD YOU HANDLE THESE TRICKY FRIEND SNAFUS? CHOOSE AN ANSWER, THEN LEARN WHICH COURSE OF ACTION MAKES YOU A PRO BRO.
1. A close bud of yours is clearly ticked off at you, and you have no idea why. You . . .
A) ask a mutual friend what’s up.
B) pretend everything’s normal and see if her bad mood goes away.
C) find time alone with her and say, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been talking to me or Snapchatting me much lately—everything OK?”
Best answer: C.
It’s tempting to bring in a third person, but now you’re just gossiping. And while giving her a little space will sometimes help (hey, for all you know, she’s upset about something going on at home—not you!), if you know something’s up and it’s really weighing on you, pretending not to see it will just stress you out. “When the tension is moderate to severe, or it persists for more than a few days, it’s best to collect your courage and speak to the friend directly,” says psychologist Lucie Hemmen. “No matter what’s happened, caring is the universal language of reconnection.” Take a deep breath, let her know you’re there for her, and—this is key—listen while she explains what’s going on.
2. You’ve made friends with a new kid at school and even discovered you both love making music. But your longtime friends don’t like him. You . . .
A) keep inviting him to group gatherings until they can see how great he is.
B) hang out with him when your other friends aren’t around.
C) stop talking to him—it’s really not worth it.
Best answer: B.
“This is such a tough one, because we all want to fit in with our friends and be liked and accepted,” Van Dijk says. It stinks when you’re making the nice move like befriending the new kid, and your friends aren’t on board. But here’s the thing: Your friends probably like that you’re friendly, confident, and kind. So show off those qualities by shrugging and saying, “He’s cool, and doesn’t know that many people yet.” If they can’t deal with it, ask yourself if those are friends you want to have.
3. You were invited to the class president Jake’s birthday bash . . . and your friends weren’t. They ask what you’re up to that Friday. (Awk!) You . . .
A) make up a family obligation.
B) say, “I’m actually going to Jake’s party that night.”
C) tell them, “I’m not sure yet” and then change the subject.
Best answer: B.
“Little white lies can get us into trouble,” Van Dijk warns. If a picture of you at the party ends up on Instagram, your friends will not be pleased. So tell the truth, but also make it clear you value their friendship. “You might say, ‘What are you up to Saturday? We should watch the game,’” Van Dijk suggests. “Validation goes a long way.”
If somebody posts about something they feel strongly about (that could be anything from politics to a movie) and you completely disagree, that’s OK. You don’t need to set them straight or tell them they’re wrong. “You can disagree with their take but still accept that it’s their experience,” Van Dijk says.
KEEP A FRIEND ON YOUR RADAR.
“If your friend is worried about the SAT he’s taking on Saturday, send him a text wishing him luck,” Hemmen suggests. “If a friend just broke up with her boyfriend and is dreading weekends, let her know you know it’s a hard time and offer to make plans to do something fun.” Tuning in to how a bud is feeling and when they need you offline too lets them know they’re important to you and you care.
DON’T SAY ANYTHING YOU DON’T WANT SCREENSHOTTED.
A snotty comment about a classmate. A string of emojis indicating how dumb a friend’s new girlfriend is. A subtweet that clearly targets one kid on your track team. You know this stuff is mean, so don’t say what you wouldn’t in person!
Friend First Aid!
Yeee-ouch! Your friend just really burned you. How to try to heal the hurt
BUY SOME TIME.
You could say, “Whoa, I need a minute” or even “I don’t want to freak out at you, so let’s talk tomorrow.” When you feel like you’ve been blindsided, you can’t say the friendship-salvaging things you want to say, so buy yourself cool-down time.
Hit pause and silently analyze the feelings and sensations in your body. Maybe your heart’s racing, your shoulders are tense, or you feel anger and shame. “Noticing and describing what’s happening slows things down, so you can choose how to respond instead of just lashing out,” Van Dijk says.
CRAFT A RESPONSE.
It should have two parts: a statement of how you feel and a request for what you’d like to happen next. (No yelling!) Maybe: “I was hurt when you said that about my brother. In the future, could you not talk about him that way?”
If you’ve given yourself a whole day to reflect, jot that response down and say it aloud a few times. “This will help it roll off the tongue,” Van Dijk says. If you’re having this talk in real time, rehearse your reply in your mind a couple of times first. Then say your piece!
You’ve just shown your friend how you feel. Now listen. By opening yourself to real talk, you’re strengthening your friendship. “Letting a friend know that you care about the friendship goes a long way,” Hemmen says.
WAYS TO BE A FRIEND WITHOUT SAYING A WORD
Yes, you can shut up and show you care at the same time!
It triggers the release of oxytocin, a brain chemical that makes you both feel good.
at your friend’s game or school play. Your presence proves you support him.
If you know a friend’s having a bad day, text her puppy GIFs to make her smile.
and faves. Your friend loves sea turtles, and on your family vacation, you found a shop that only sells turtle stuff? Pick up a souvenir!
as you’re walking down the hall. A simple kind look makes people feel seen.
Put your phone down and really lend an ear. You’ll be amazed at how validating this is for your friend.
Like what you see? Then you'll love Choices, our health, social-emotional learning, and life-skills magazine for grades 7–12