The power of friendship

There’s a sweetness in child’s play that sounds like nothing else. And I’m not eager for that to go away when it comes to my tween daughter. 

She’s in both worlds right now, still playing with dolls, but also Instagramming selfies with friends. I can’t say she does one or the other more. 

I see the days of make-believe arching into a world of reality. I hear the conversations and the play between her friends, and it’s a strange feeling as parent. 

It’s an area of her life she can learn only by working it out for herself. 

This is yet another part of her life that I’m not physically a part of: I’m invited to peer into a sliver of it when I see her lunchtime phone pics, but she’s charting her own course, steering her own vessel.

 

Part of development

Libby Marx, a Twin Cities therapist who works with families, teens and children, believes strongly in the importance of teen friendships. Peers have special ways of supporting each other during these turbulent, exciting and, often scary, years of their lives.

“Friendships are an essential part of adolescent psycho-social ​development. It is within these relationships that teens take risks by being vulnerable outside of the family,” Marx said. “They develop their own style of communication, conflict resolution and learn about loyalty. Friendships are vital in the lives of teenagers.”

 

Finding friends

Middle school can change friendships that once seemed forever in the heart of the elementary years. In the younger years, you’re friends with the kids in your class that year. In middle school, personal (and hormonal) changes can affect friendships, even if the intent was for them to stay the same. 

This means that, maybe for the first time, they’re choosing who their friends are. They’re no longer just there waiting for them in class. 

I hope I’ve taught my daughter enough about love and respect. I don’t have any other tools to send her off with right now. And that’s daunting when healthy relationships are so vital to a healthy future.

 

What do tweens want?

I asked my daughter and her friends what they felt were the most important traits in a friend. Honesty and kindness — and the ability to really understand you — were at the top of their list.

I was surprised to see how much they wanted from their young friendships, and how much they were willing to give. While “having fun” and sharing similar interests were on their lists, too, I found they weren’t overly focused on frivolities. They seem motivated to make their relationships work.

“You have to be willing to be respectful,” said Madaleen 12, “I always treat others the way I want to be treated.” 

Emilie 11, prides herself on being a strong friend. 

“I give in big ways and little ways. A good friend will never turn on you,” she said.

 

Who’s at your lunch table?

In my life, through all of the moves we’ve made and new cities we’ve been a part of, I’ve been lucky enough to have a full lunch table — friends who brought things to my life right when I needed them. Often, they weren’t people I might have chosen for myself. But they’ve been there, loving me and teaching me to love in return.

I don’t know how, exactly, to teach this to my daughter. Though, by the sounds of it, she’s starting to grasp this all on her own. 

I’m not her friend, just her mom. But I sure love the kind of friends she is choosing, and seeing the kind of friend she wants to be. It makes standing back and watching it all a pleasure. 


Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 12 and 14. Send comments, questions and story ideas to jwizbowski@mnparent.com.