13 Ways on How to Help Your Teen Make Friends
Updated: Nov 23
Takeaway: In this post, I will explain how to help your teen make friends by discussing the challenges and barriers on how to make friends as a teenager. In addition, I review the steps for teenagers on how to make friends and what to do as the parent to encourage your teen to make friends.
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Finding and making friends can be a daunting and scary task. We, as human beings, naturally want connection and a sense of belonging, especially in the teen years. Being part of a group is instinctual. As parents of teenagers who are observing their teenager struggle with making friends - or having no friends at all - can be heartbreaking to watch. You might not understand why it is so difficult for your teenager to make friends or wonder if it’s normal for your teenager to have no friends.
In this article, you will learn about the challenges and barriers that teenagers have to face when it comes to making friends. Also, I will lay out the process on how to make friends as a teenager so you can get an idea on the appropriate social skills it takes to make friends. Lastly, you will leave with 13 ways you can help your teen make friends.
Why is it Hard to Make Friends as a Teenager Nowadays?
Being a teen therapist in Orange County, CA, most of my teen clients are struggling with friendships, specifically, making friends, keeping friends, and navigating conflict within the friendships. Teenagers often wish their parents knew how hard it was to make and form friendships nowadays.
Social media has brought on a new dynamic when it comes to friendships and teenagers. Connecting over social media can bring upon misrepresentations and minimal or no boundaries for when and how often to communicate with friends. Teenagers use social media as an attempt to resolve conflict through gossiping, bullying, or blocking/unfriending peers. In addition, it is difficult for teenagers to read each other’s body language and non-verbal cues to fully comprehend how someone is feeling or thinking. Lastly, teenagers have pressure to be plugged in and on social media for fear of missing out on what their friends are doing. Social media can be a difficult space to foster connections and meaningful, trusting friendships.
The COVID shutdown and pandemic was especially hard for teenagers who are in a critical stage of their relationships, identity, and seeking autonomy from their parents. Not being able to be in close proximity with their peers, limited opportunities to be around other teenagers, and not being able to read facial cues due to facial coverings has had a negative effect on teenagers.
Naturally, teenagers are learning how to be in a relationship with others and how to have a relationship with themselves. In doing so, teens have a hard time figuring out what are healthy versus unhealthy friendship qualities. They are testing out certain social skills to create and build friendships. Lastly, a common theme I hear from teenagers is they haven’t found their best friend yet. Some teenagers haven’t met another peer that they can connect with and relate to.
Is it Normal for Teenagers to Have no Friends?
Teenagers having friends is very significant in their development of separating and figuring out who they are outside of their family unit. Having a sense of belonging and being a part of a group is foundational to learning social skills. In fact, research shows that friendship is the primary importance to teenagers. Even for adults, being in community with others helps with feelings of loneliness and engagement.
It is normal for teenagers to want privacy and space, and to be alone at times. Being alone to reflect and self-soothe is great for teenagers, especially when they are learning to cope with stress.
However, having no friends at all and no motivation nor desire to seek friends is a concern. It could potentially be a sign that your teenager might have some mental health or developmental symptoms occurring.
How to Make Friends as a Teenager
As a parent of a teenager, it is crucial to understand how to make friends as a teenager would. Learning the social skills to initiate conversation, hold a conversation, find friends, and keep friends are the pillars to making friendships.
Knowing the steps to make a friend as a teenager will be the template in helping your teenager navigate and enhance their friendships.
1. Have an approachable and welcoming presence:
Teenagers who are friendly, smiling, and demonstrating positive body language are more likely to attract other peers. We naturally want to be around people who are positive, joyful, and optimistic most of the time. Smiling and being approachable are two ways to attract new friends.
2. Introduce yourself:
When first meeting people, there is always this dance around who will introduce or say Hello first. Teenagers especially feel “awkward” with having to introduce themselves and be the first to say Hello. If they are waiting for the other teen to introduce themself, they might be waiting for a long time. Saying hi and introducing yourself demonstrates assertiveness, confidence, and genuine interest in getting to know someone else. Most teenagers struggle with introducing themselves.
3. Start a conversation:
The foundational piece of making friends is striking up a conversation. One of the main struggles for teenagers is knowing what to ask another teen and how to keep a conversation going. Teenagers often don’t know how to ask open ended questions and strike up a conversation. A couple of ways to start a conversation would be to ask for help on classwork, ask for directions somewhere, inquire what they did over the weekend, and explore if the teen is involved in any sports, music, or committees.
4. Common hobbies, interests, and strengths:
Looking for friends who have similar interests can be helpful for teenagers in making friends. Getting to know someone who enjoys the same hobbies or has similar strengths is a great way to bond and connect with another person.
5. Ask for their phone number to further the conversation:
Back in the day when I was a teenager, we would ask for each other’s phone numbers. Friends would call the house and need to engage with the parent who answered the phone. It was a great opportunity for teens to navigate how to talk with adults and their peers on the phone. Nowadays, it is common for teenagers to ask for each other’s “snap” as in being connected via snapchat. Asking for another teenager’s contact information is an important tactic for teenagers to try to further the conversation toward a friendship.
6. Show you are interested in being friends:
A simple way to show you are interested in being friends is for teenagers to follow up with their peers on previous conversations. This is a great way to show you paid attention to the conversation, you are invested in what the outcome was, and you are demonstrating genuine interest in the teenager’s life.
7. Understanding the gradual progression of friendship:
It’s important for teenagers to understand that friendships don’t happen out of thin air and simply introducing yourself doesn’t equal friendship. There is a gradual progression of how a friendship develops. First, teenagers might have acquaintances where they meet a peer who is in the same class or sports team. An acquaintance stage is when teenagers are testing out if this person would be a good fit to have a friendship with. Next, the teenager enters a friendship where there might be some common interests, mutual trust, and enjoyment of each other’s company. Typically, when friends hang out and get to know each other, they will enter the “good friends” stage where they quite possibly seek each other’s feedback and emotional support. Lastly, there is the “best friend” stage where teenagers feel most authentic and vulnerable, and there is a strong sense of loyalty. Understanding the gradual progression of how to have a meaningful friendship increases awareness for teenagers on how much effort, time, and emotional investment it takes to have close relationships.
What are Possible Barriers to your Teenager Making Friends?
As a parent of a teenager, you might be wondering why your teenager does not want to make friends or has little motivation to make friends. There are some possible barriers as to why your teenager is reluctant to make friendships.
Social Anxiety occurs when teens fear social interactions or situations due to being potentially embarrassed. Teenagers with social anxiety will have a very difficult time initiating conversations and making friendships.
Adjusting to a Move
Teenagers having to adjust after moving schools or moving to a different city or state isn’t an easy task. They are grieving the loss of their old friend group and at the same time trying to have the strength and emotional availability to make new friends. Some teens will find it difficult to reach out to new friends due to other teenagers already in their groups.
At times teenagers feel they have minimal to no opportunities to make or keep friends. This can look like teenagers who aren’t allowed to attend gatherings or leave the house after school. Or teenagers who are involved in competitive classes with rigorous schoolwork or individualized sports. These activities restrict teenagers from opportunities to be around peers and develop friendships.
Difficulty Trusting Others
Teenagers with trust issues may have been heartbroken, hurt, or betrayed by their friends in the past and they are hesitant to make friends or progress friendships. They struggle with the fear they will get hurt again.
Some teens are more introverted than others. They might be less likely to initiate conversations and be waiting patiently for the other person to do it first. Problems arise when more introverted teenagers miss out on opportunities to further friendships because their waiting for the other teen to “make the first move.” This can come across as disinterest.
Not Aware of Their Defensive and Protective Mechanisms:
As a teen therapist, most of my teenage clients have protective mechanisms in place where they might not allow others to fully get to know them. Teens not allowing themselves to be vulnerable, even with a safe and trusting friend, will limit their friendships and thus, restrict them from meaningful connections.
13 Ways on How to Help Your Teen Make Friends
1. Encourage your teen to join teams, committees and clubs:
Increasing the amount of opportunities for your teenager to meet new people and develop friendships is crucial for your teen to find peers who they might be interested in and use their social skills.
Encourage your teen to volunteer at local group homes, animal rescues, youth groups, charities, churches, homeless shelters, or kitchens, and/or teaching clubs. Your teenager will meet peers who will have similar values in helping others, serving the community, and giving back.
3. Role play on how to initiate conversations:
As a therapist, one technique I enjoy using with teenagers is role playing. Role play how to initiate conversations, which offers preparation and practice. Teenagers might feel nervous or scared to start a conversation with peers. If they feel more prepared and confident due to role playing, they will more than likely engage in the act with their peers.
4. Come up with general and in-depth questions to ask someone:
Getting to know someone and keeping friends is all about asking general and in-depth questions. Meaningful conversations come from discussing feelings, emotions, growth, failure, and suffering. Help your teen make friends by going beyond the surface. Outline questions which can open the door to really understanding and seeing someone. For example: “What is the hardest thing you have gone through?”
5. Identify healthy qualities they would like in a friend:
Most teenagers don’t think about what qualities they are looking for in a friendship. Some teens will be friends with whoever is interested in them, instead of identifying particular friendship qualities that are important to them. One question you can ask your teen is, “What are you looking for in a friendship?"
6. Explore possible peers your teenager would like to get to know:
Brainstorm with your teenager possible classmates or teammates that seem positive, fun, and interesting to get to know. Having your teenager identify potential people to be friends with can help them be more open to the idea of initiating conversation. For example, “What would be one person in your class you would like to get to know a little more?”
7. Find a part-time job where other teenagers work:
Make a list of certain stores, restaurants, shops, and activity centers that are made up of employees who are in the same age range as your teen. For instance, my first job was working at the local ice rink where most of the employees were high school students. Some of the friendships made during this first job are still important in my life today. Having a part time job can help your teen make friends and, a sense of purpose.
8. Discuss the difference between an acquaintance, a friendship, and a meaningful friendship:
It is important for teenagers to know the progression of how one becomes an acquaintance, then a friend, and over time and effort, a best friend. The thing to highlight here is that making friends and turning them into meaningful friendships is going to take time, effort, investment, and trust. Teenagers understanding the progression can help with providing measurement of where they would like to be on the friendship spectrum.
9. Discuss the fears of getting to know others and others getting to know them:
Validating your teenager’s fears of getting to know others is incredibly beneficial in helping your teen make friends. It can feel scary putting yourself out there in getting to know someone and trying to make friends. Teens are risking judgment, vulnerability, rejection, and ridicule by putting themselves out there. However, by validating and normalizing their feelings, your teenager will know that most teens feel scared to put themselves out there.
10. Outline the benefits of having close friendships:
Even though there is risk of rejection, ridicule, and judgment in putting yourself out there, there are so many wonderful and amazing benefits to having close friendships. Close friendships mean feeling connected, a sense of belonging, being understood and seen, and supported by other teens. Spending time with friends can help with mental health and develop positive traits into adulthood. How to help your teen make friends is as simple as saying - out loud - all the good things you can get out of a friendship.
11. Get to know other parents of teenagers:
Make it a point to get to know your teenager’s friends' parents and other parents of teenagers. A teenager will have more opportunity to make and keep friendships if you try to get to know the friend’s family. For example: Invite a family over for dinner or meet a family at a restaurant after a sporting event.
12. Model them by your own friendships:
Leading by example is one of the best ways for teenagers to learn and choose to change behavior on their own terms. It’s hard to tell your teenager how to act. You might be met with resistance, attitude, and noncompliance. Having your own friendships will show your teenager how important friendships are to you, the benefits and values of friendship, and the connectedness it offers.
13. Have them join a teen social skills or support groups:
If your teenager is struggling with anxiety or peer conflict, joining a teen social skills or support group can be a great place for teenagers to learn the fundamentals of friendship and resolving conflict. In addition, your teen might feel more understood and resonated with by the other teenagers in the group.
Most teenagers wish their parents knew how hard it is to make friends in this generation. Teenage loneliness is more apparent than parents may be aware of. And with the rise of social media, teens are plugged in more than ever. Understanding the basics of how teenagers make friends can really help with providing your teens with opportunities to meet other teens and set them up for success when they are interacting with others. Teenagers can be resistant to sharing with their parents. Modeling healthy friendship behavior with other adults can be your golden ticket.
Needing additional help for your teenager:
Sometimes the barriers and struggles to making friends can become problematic or your teen is experiencing more symptoms than warranted. At Ashley Hudson Therapy, I help teens and young adults navigate through anxiety, low self-esteem, friendship conflict and issues, and life transitions in a safe and therapeutic space. If you are in California and ready to start feeling better, schedule a complimentary consultation with me today.
In addition, Ashley Hudson is the founder of Illuminate Your Connection LLC, an online parent coaching course that helps parents of teenagers reconnect with their teenager and illuminate the relationship they once had. Join the waitlist today!
If you are looking for a sneak peek of the parenting program, sign up for the FREE mini parenting course. You get 4 lessons on how to ignite connection fast with your teenager.