Relationships are a part of life. Relating and communicating with others is a daily task and, as we grow, our interaction skills and relationship habits begin developing—especially in our teenage years.
For most teens, family, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends are seemingly the most important relationships in their lives. As teens mature, they form relationships with others that will eventually help them establish other relationships in their adult lives, whether it is with a boss, colleague, friend or spouse.
The friend factor
Friends are an integral part of adolescence. Teens spend the majority of time with their peers, from inside the classroom, to after school club meetings, to sports and extracurricular activities. School is where teens interact the most with others. It is also a place where, through new experiences and endeavors, teens learn how to handle situations independent of their family.
For most teens, learning how to handle different types of people—the personalities they mesh with and the ones they don’t—is an important life lesson. The most beneficial thing young people gain in having relationships outside of their family is developing a sense of community, support and dependability on others.
Growing up in today’s society, teens are often faced with stressful situations. School activities and homework take up most of their of time. New responsibilities such as a job or volunteer commitment can also demand their attention. Teens also have a larger social network and enjoy spending time with new friends. These are just a few reasons young people tend to “drift away” from their families at this age.
Friends and more than friends
Upon entering high school, teens seek out people they want by their side for the next four years. This can be a stressful, yet thrilling experience. Teens want relationships with people they can trust, people they know will support them, and people who they can share experiences and memories with.
And while young people know their family are all of these things, teens often seek people outside of their family to fulfill these wants. Teens need people other than their family to rely on, which is why non-familial relationships are so important.
Romantic relationships also play a significant role in a teen’s life. Dating is an important process because it helps you learn what to look for in a mate and the type of person you want to spend the rest of your life with.
But what is it about relationships that are so important? For teens, choosing their own friends—and relating to them in a way they don’t with their parents—is a form of independence. It is a small step towards coming out from under their parents’ wings and being accepted by others solely for who they are.
Teens are fulfilled by relationships with people they a mutual connection with. However, this sense of fulfillment can be so overpowering, it can often cause a young person to want to spend more time with their peers, rather than their family. Teens choose to be around other teens because their friends are more agreeable with their decisions than their parents. They feel more connected and better understood by them.
Community and acceptance is what drives teenagers. To them, the whole purpose of being in a relationship is that have someone in their life that they are completely compatible with, someone who understands them.
The most important relationship in a teenager’s life, whether the teen sees it this way or not, is the relationship they have with their parents. While adults make mistakes—we all do—it is the safety, leadership and example that they model that help young people become healthy and successful adults.
The unconditional love and comfort that parents provide fills a teen’s need to be connected to others. As teens get older, they begin to seek fulfillment in others. The key factor in this transition is how much fulfillment teens got from their parents. The love we receive as children, or the lack thereof, is a precursor to what we seek in others.
In families, different generations have different outlooks on the importance of family relationships. Teens seem to view their friends as their family; those they can rely on. Due to the pressure to become independent so quickly, some teens focus mainly on their friends and leave their parents on the sideline. Teens who behave this way may have difficulties maintaining full and healthy relationships because they do not take the time to observe the examples of their parents.
Other teens tend to view family as most important. These teens tend to be more mature and because of this, they have more stable relationships. To these teens, friends are an option, while family is a commitment. Without family, there is a lack of genuine support that cannot be given anywhere else.
Even older teens and young adults heading off to college still have a lot to learn from their parent. Friends will teach you short-term lessons, while family will teach you long-term solutions and goals.
Whether it’s family, dating or friendships, relationships are vital to teens. The daily skills that they learn from experiences and mistakes helps make teens into who they will become in their adult life. Wherever we come from, who ever we are, we all have one thing in common: the need for acceptance and community.
By Erin Saba and Ashley Dancee