The teenage years may be a difficult time for young people trying to navigate their way through often-turbulent relationships, according to Dr. Elizabeth Meeker, a psychologist at Coordinated Care Services Inc. in Rochester.
“One thing to kind of remember is relationships during the teen years tend to be more intense. Someone goes quickly to being a best friend and there’s a lot of drama, and that’s part of adolescence,” said Meeker, who provides support to the Monroe County Office of Mental Health and works with families and young people.
Trust is the key component of any healthy relationship, whether that relationship is between friends, family members or people who are dating, Meeker added.
Teens who have healthy friendships trust that their friends will not spread gossip about them or share something they’ve been told in confidence, and they know their friends will always be there for them, Meeker said. Friends in healthy relationships also often share common interests and enjoy spending time together.
“You can have disagreements, but you still are able to work through them,” she said. “That’s definitely a sign of a healthy relationship.”
Sixteen-year-old Terry Skerrett, a member of St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Ontario, said he thinks he and his friends share a healthy friendship. He and his friends are approximately the same age and share common interests. They like to hang out, joke around and laugh together, and there are hardly any awkward silences between them, Terry said.
“We understand each other most of the time and we can basically guess what’s going on in their heads,” he said.
Terry said he tries to be a good friend to the people he hangs out with, and he has certain things he expects of his own friends.
“My expectations are you don’t force me into doing something I don’t want to do, and you don’t pressure me for it. You don’t talk about your friends behind their backs. I also hope that they don’t talk about my other friends behind their backs,” he said.
Meeker sometimes talks to teens who are in unhealthy friendships, even though they may not realize it at the time, she said. In an unhealthy friendship, one friend will not trust the other, and instead will act jealously and even possessively, Meeker said. Such a jealous friend will not like it when his or her friends spend time with other people, and will often say things like, “I’m your most important friend. If you don’t have me, who do you have?” she noted.
Such jealous behavior also is common in less-than-healthy dating relationships, Meeker said.
“One person always wants to know who (the other) is going to be with, checks their e-mail, checks their cell phone to see who they’ve been talking to,” she said.
It’s sometimes hard for teens to get out of such friendships or dating relationships, because the possessive person keeps trying to pull them back into the relationship, she said. Meeker and her colleagues usually encourage people in such relationships to talk to a trusted friend or adult outside the relationship who may be able to help the person clearly see and understand what is happening.
“We encourage them to reach out to new friends. We encourage them to develop new, healthy relationships. That makes it easier to walk away from an unhealthy one,” Meeker added.
Parents should know who their children’s friends are and be supportive of their child if one of his or her friendships ends.
“Sometimes friendships just end. People develop different interests. That’s painful to the people left behind,” Meeker said.
Teens, for their part, can try to be sensitive if they’re ever faced with the prospect of ending a friendship. Be gentle, and tell the former friend what you’re thinking instead of just abandoning the person, she said.
As children enter their teen years, they often begin spending more time with their friends, but this doesn’t mean parents and teens should stop working to improve their own relationships, Meeker added. In fact, a recent study by The Associated Press and MTV found that spending time with family was the top answer given when more than 1,200 people between the ages of 13 and 24 were asked the open-ended question, “What makes you happy?”
The second-most popular answer was “spending time with friends,” followed by “spending time with a significant other,” according to the AP, which also found nearly 75 percent of those polled said their relationships with their parents made them happy.
“Teens do really value their parents and the time they spend with them,” Meeker said.
Trust is just as important in these parent-child relationships as it is in relationships between friends and dating partners, she said. Parents should try to keep the lines of communication open and let their children know they’re available to help and support the teens, Meeker said. In the same vein, teens should try to be open and honest with parents.
“Sometimes that can be hard, but that’s how they build trust,” she said. “If they can show them that they can handle more responsibility, parents are going to be willing to give them more privileges.”