“Shane’s life revolves around his friends,” says Denise S. of her 17-year-old son, “even though sometimes all they do is hang out or play X-Box or Playstation,” she adds.
Teen friendships can have a big impact on behavior and lead to choices that can have lasting implications. Friendships formed during these years offer children the ability to practice for later skills that they will need when dealing with a lover, a boss, and eventually, a child of their own. A teen with a group of friends has a second family to bolster him or her and help to hone a new world view he doesn’t get at home. Friends allow teens to feel accepted and share values. And a teen friendship offers a wonderful lab for practicing social skills—an activity as simple as deciding together whether to go to the mall or to the movie helps build teamwork; comforting a friend whose parents are divorcing builds empathy.
Donna Secor, who works at Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, notes differences between boys’ and girls’ friendships. Boys’ friendships are more activities-oriented—they’ll play video games or go fishing. Girls’ friendships are more about sharing and talking. And friendships between boys and girls allow teens to learn to relate to the opposite sex without the complications of dating.