Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Is a Friend?

            We hear the word friend all the time.  We have used it starting from when we were toddlers all the way up until adulthood.  Most of us are fortunate enough to have people in our lives that we go to in times of happiness, sadness, in joy, and pain.  I even have a friend that I can go to and be mad with.  He is very similar to me in that we tend to and often get worked up over the same things.  So when something happens that drives either one of us nuts, we always know we can call the other and have someone who understands and will be mad with us.  One of our favorite things to chat about is people that drive badly.  We often share stories of people that drive so badly that if we didn’t have each other, we would definitely be guilty of road rage.  Instead, we call each other up (safely of course, with hands free equipment) and talk about it to blow off steam and have a laugh. 
That being said, when is the last time you really thought about what a friend was?  When did you last think of the qualities you want or need in a friend?  Better yet, have you thought about what different types of friends there are?  Do you value trustworthiness, honesty, supportiveness, funny, or helpful?  Do you need someone that is faithful, sympathetic, or sensible?  Do you need someone that is easy to please and/or get along with? Do you need someone that has a similar or opposite personality to your own?  Do you have certain friends that are fun to spend time with but aren’t necessarily who you can turn to in a crisis?  Do all of your friends play different roles in your life and interactions with them?
Think back to when you were in junior high, then high school, then into your twenties and so on.  Have the qualities you sought out in friends changed?  Have your friends changed?  Have you broken up with some of your friends only to find new ones?  Are you wondering why I am posing all of these questions? 
When I think back to why I had the friends that I did when I was in junior high and high school, I now realize that they differ from why I have the friends that I do in my adult life.  In high school, it was fun to have friends that liked the same music, clothes, and movies that I did.  Moreover, I had friends that were on a similar life track.  We were all in the same classes, had similar upbringings, wanted to go to college, and even loved the same subjects that I did.  (Yes, and I will admit that I was a school nerd back then.)  I really didn’t socialize with anyone that didn’t or wasn’t into the same things that I was at that point in my life.
As an adult, I have friends that do like to do the same things that I do.  But I do not preclude those that don’t like or do everything that I do.  In fact, I have learned far more by being friends with many different types of people that like all kinds of things.  For example, here are just a few things that each of my friends really like.  One likes XBOX, Play Station, and Wii.  One loves wine, cheese, and fine dining.  One loves animals and helping at shelters.  One is super devoted to their faith and another doesn’t believe in any type of religion.  One loves hunting and fishing.  While another could never fathom killing any animal and is strictly a vegan. We all hang out together regularly.  We are lucky in that we all are accepting of each other’s choices.  When we talk, we learn so much about perspectives, ideas, and subjects that we normally wouldn’t seek to learn about or experience.  It is great food for thought!
            As parents, caregivers, and advocates for teens, I think these are important considerations.  Most teens have a very limited view of life, the world, and are short on the life experiences of someone in their 50’s or 60’s.  Most teens haven’t learned the value of the differences that define people and potential friends.  It is our job first, to consider what qualities make people we want as our own friends.  Secondly, it is our job to help our tweens and teens to discover what they want in a friendship.  It may not be the same, but having an open dialog is the best way to guide your kids in making their own choices by virtue of being able to take advantage of your experience and wisdom.  Then our tweens and teens can learn about beneficial qualities like honesty, kindness, and patience.  They can also learn that people that take advantage of them, steal, are mean, cruel, and/or judgmental aren’t necessarily the best qualities in a potential friend.  I also wish someone would have told me that it is okay to grow up and away from friends you had before.  It doesn’t mean you hate or abandoned them.  It just means that maybe your life is taking a different direction.  There shouldn’t be any hard feelings provided there was not conflict left unresolved.  Character growth, new experiences, and different futures shouldn’t sway a teen from either maintaining or meeting new friends wherever their lives take them.  It truly is all about persona growth.
            In doing so, our tweens and teens will be able to form friendships that are positive and beneficial to both parties.  It is also a great way to teach boundaries and boundary setting for future romantic relationships.  If a teen can choose a great friend because they have been taught to seek out healthy and positive friendships then it is easy to see that those skills will carry over into the selection of a boy or girlfriend.      

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