“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.” ~~Mom
This one is dedicated to my mom. She passed a way 7 years ago around Mother’s day. She was a very wise woman but I often failed to see that when I was a teen-ager. Oh what I would give to talk to that lady again today. We used to argue all the time when I was in college about the concepts I was learning versus what she knew from life experience. I would often dismiss her opinions treasuring what I was learning more than what she had to offer. Now however, I see so much more clearly the value of life experience too. We were both right. At least that is how I would like to end that argument. J
She often would tell me to watch who my friends were lest others would judge me by the company I kept. She also however knew that if my friends were up to no good, I probably was too.
When working with teens I have always said, “those that are in pain will seek out and find others who are also in pain.” Yes, it’s a small twist on my mom’s words, but I think it digs a bit deeper.
For instance, if a teen has never struggled or had a true hardship, they might have one set of friends. However, if they go through something that is difficult or life altering, that same group of friends just doesn’t seem to get it. Without support, this same teen might suddenly find others who can identify with them and who also carry a painful experience. You tend to group with the ones that somehow can share a common understanding with you, even if that’s pain.
As parents, we need to be aware of this change in our teens. If you suddenly notice a friend group changing, ask questions. See who is in the group or better yet, start asking your teen why they are drawn to the group.
I have watched teens that are athletes, good students, and positive role models changing in a matter of months. Having a parent or sibling die or experiencing sudden abuse or life changing events can have a powerful impact on a teen. They make attempts to connect with their friend group like they used to, but going to the mall or the movies, just doesn’t feel the same anymore. They try and reach out to one of their closer friends but they tell them they need to snap out of it and get back to being happy again. The hurting teen can see that their “happy” friends don’t want to be brought down by their pain.
Know that a teen can go through similar experiences if they are struggling with depression, anxiety or learning disabilities. They too are often unable to relate to their peer group.
It’s not that the group of friends doesn’t want to be supportive, but often they don’t know where to start. As adults we struggle to support our friends during times of crisis. Now imagine a teen with a limited number of coping skills attempting to do the same thing. It’s too heavy a burden.
Grades start to fall. Clothes start changing, wearing even more or less makeup, past time activities change, etc. Once the visible changes have occurred, much has already happened with this youth.
If you notice that a teen has had these sudden changes, perhaps it’s time to reach out for help and support.