How to Help Your Teen Through a Friendship Breakup

How to Help Your Teen Through a Friendship Breakup

What to do when your teen's friend is no longer a BFFL

As our children become teenagers and their interests and hobbies change, so too do their friendships. But when the end of a friendship is a shock to one teen—whether from a sudden falling out to a general growing apart—it can be devastating. Experts share how to help your teen through a friendship breakup, from trying to reconcile to dealing with the end of the relationship.

At the end of my freshman year in high school, two friends I thought I was close with stopped talking to me for no reason. They decided not to invite me to one of their birthday parties and when I asked why I was excluded, their response was one of them “just did not want to be friends with you anymore.”

Navigating friendships as a teenager can be tricky. This is the age when kids are trying to figure out who they are, meeting new people, getting involved in different activities, and going through physical and emotional changes. Kids who have been friends since childhood may drift away from each other because they no longer have anything in common.

Though friend breakups are common in the teen years, they can be devastating—after all, friends can act as a strong support system. It’s important to remember not all friendships may last, but going through a rough patch can help kids learn how to build better relationships with others. Here are some ways to help your teen learn how to resolve problems, be a better friend, and know when to move on from a bad friendship.
    

Suggest a Sit-Down

If a teen is having issues with a friend at school and needs to seek advice from someone, a guidance counselor’s role is to be a mediator. A counselor can set up separate or group meetings with the students involved, depending on how comfortable they are being in a room together. Jeanmarie Wilson has been a high school guidance counselor for more than 20 years at Smithtown High School West in Suffolk County and recommends having all parties communicate to work through the issue they are trying to resolve.

“We really look at a situation and ask both parties to take responsibility for whatever occurred, whether that was a miscommunication or any action that was not a positive one,” Wilson says. “Then we look at both of their parts to see if they’re willing to apologize to each other and come to some kind of a meeting of the minds.”

If the problems lie beyond a counselor’s realm of expertise, parents may choose to send their teen to a behavioral psychologist to try to help her with any deeper issues within herself. “A lot of times it’s just helping [teens] navigate their own self-esteem and identity formation to develop healthy relationships around them,” says Adam S. Weissman, Ph.D., a clinical-behavioral psychologist and the founder and director of The Child & Family Institute, a cognitive-behavioral therapy center with locations in Westchester, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. “Sometimes if they really are trying to maintain a friendship or develop a new friendship, there’s definitely some social skills and tips for overcoming social anxiety or worry about what that person thinks of them,” Dr. Weissman says.
     

Encourage Equal Friendships

Oftentimes teens may put themselves in situations in which the people they call friends are using them, or they are not being their authentic selves in order to gain popularity and please others. Explain to your teen that if the dynamic feels as though he’s giving more than he’s getting, it’s a sign the friendship is unbalanced. “A friendship is a product of how [teens] choose to engage with their social environment, and that’s usually a reflection on how they feel about themselves,” Dr. Weissman says.

The key to any relationship, whether it’s platonic or romantic, is to have two-way communication and for both parties to feel there is reciprocity. Let your teen know that if she’s unhappy in a situation, conveying her feelings to the other person lets them know she cares enough to be open and honest in communicating, and that she respects herself enough to say she is upset. Then she also needs to be a good listener and understand where the other person is coming from. “Give thought in what you say to people, how you say it, and respect others for who they are—you can’t expect them to be perfect all of the time,” Wilson says. 
    

Help Your Teen Limit His Social Media Exposure

Social media nowadays can really mess with a teenager’s head. He can find himself overanalyzing subtext that may or may not be in captions and Instagram stories, fretting over not receiving enough likes and comments on a post, or feeling FOMO (fear of missing out) when friends are hanging out without him. Social media can create unnecessary drama, so it’s best to avoid spending too much time on apps and have more face-to-face conversations. “It’s really important not to use social media as a form for expressing things that are really sensitive topics,” Wilson says. “I would advise communicating to the person directly and not posting your feelings or texting anything that needs to be said in person to avoid miscommunication.”

Teenagers may feel pressure to look or live like “influencers” on the Internet, which can lead to feeling inadequate or unhappy. Remind your child social media is curated and the best way to feel better is to log off once in a while (this advice can apply to adults too). Apps such as Moment or Checky can monitor how many times she checks her phone to make her more aware of reducing screen time. “Spending hours on social media becomes more depressing over time and you start feeling guilty of the things you’re not doing,” Dr. Weissman says. “If you’re that kid who’s going on there and self-esteem is an issue for you, you’re going to use that as your barometer to find how people value you.”
    

Put a Friendship’s End in Perspective

Though it is ideal to resolve an issue among friends and continue the friendship, sometimes after laying all of the problems and feelings out on the table, the friendship cannot go back to what it was and does not work out. Not everyone will remain your teen’s friend, but every friendship or brief encounter can help him understand what types of qualities he values in a friend moving forward.

Encourage your child not to view a friendship breakup as a failure, but rather as an opportunity to grow and continue to learn how to be a better friend. Once she lets the not-so-great-people out of her life, she can make room for better ones to create more meaningful friendships. “Some kids are going through the motions and figuring out who they are and trying to be popular, and sometimes those kids have a hard time being a good friend,” Dr. Weissman says. “Having open and real conversations about what’s going on for each other can be an important sense of support and can make a real valuable friendship that can last beyond high school, but it takes a certain level of maturity for that to happen and I think some kids are not there yet.”

As high school progressed beyond my freshman year, those two friends who excluded me ended up drifting apart themselves, and finding new groups to hang out with. Teens who say they’ve found their BFFL (best friends for life) may not always end up staying friends for life, and that’s okay. Friends come and go throughout high school to make room for better ones down the road.