For kids, making and keeping friends can be a tough proposition. Part of the problem is that kids build up and accept some very negative and confusing myths about behavior and expectations that make finding, choosing and keeping friends especially difficult. These myths can also make kids feel bad about themselves.
While you can't exactly sit down with your kid and say, "Hey, honey, I bet you think this ... and you shouldn't," you can be aware of the biggest misconceptions they're dealing with on a daily basis. Watch for these behaviors and do your best to steer them toward healthier and more positive points of view.
Among the most common myths for preteens and teens are:
Girls and boys can't be friends. Reality check: In fact, the most successful couples are usually close friends. This myth may come from the idea that girls are looking for a long-term relationship while boys are only interested in sex. True, some couples are attracted to each other purely for physical reasons. But wanting to form a meaningful connection isn't just a girl thing. Having a girlfriend or boyfriend that your kid can care about, respect and enjoy being around is one of the best relationships he or she will ever have.
If you aren't dating yet, something must be wrong with you. Reality check: Feel free to tell your kid: "Nothing is wrong with you." Some kids just aren't interested in dating. Some don't date because of family or religious values. Others concentrate on school, extracurricular activities and community service projects. They're focused on the future—college or career—and they don't want dating to get in their way. Still others don't feel the need to rush. They're having plenty of fun hanging out and aren't ready for the commitment or responsibility of a relationship. They like having girls who are friends and boys who are friends.
When a boy hangs out with girls, he's cool. When a girl hangs out with boys, she's easy. Reality check: Being a girl with friends who are boys, and being a boy with friends who are girls, can be great. But sometimes the talk around school rewards boys for forming these friendships and restricts or punishes girls. Boys who spend time with lots of girls are "cool"; girls who spend time with lots of boys are "sluts." Even parents sometimes have this view. They're proud if their son has several "girlfriends" but worry that their daughter will get a "bad reputation." This is a double standard. Don't buy into it—and don't let your kid buy into it, either.
Boys put out all the money. Girls have to pay them back somehow, right? Reality check: Wrong—especially if "somehow" means sexual favors, which many people think it does. No one should be pressured or intimidated into getting physically close with someone else. This goes for boys and girls. And guess what? Boys don't have to pay for everything. Girls have their own money. Try telling your teen, "If you want to date someone but don't have the cash, find free or inexpensive things to do—like a walk in the park, a bike ride, a movie matinee or a video. If you don't want to be seen as 'owing' anyone, pay your way. And if you really like each other, share the expenses or take turns paying."
© Pamela Espeland 2003