Articles for Parents

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    3 Keys to Deeper Friendships

    Shasta Nelson has spent more than a decade studying loneliness and friendships. Nelson is a healthy relationship expert and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness and Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends. She is currently working on her next book, “The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time,” to be published by HarperCollins Leadership.

    Nelson surveyed people to find out how fulfilling their friendships felt from one to 10, with 10 being the most meaningful satisfaction. About 60-70 percent respondents rated their relationships five or below.

    Nelson realized that while people might be in friend relationships or marriage relationships, there was a gap between the kind of relationships people want to have and the kind they actually have. In fact, 80 percent of the complaints about friendships centered around wanting more and deeper connection. She found that people know more people than ever before and are supposedly more connected, yet they are lonelier than ever.

    A 2018 CIGNA study of 20,000 people found that nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone. Additionally, 1 in 4 rarely or never feels as though people really understand them, and 2 in 5 Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful.

    According to Nelson, modern day loneliness is not because we need to interact more with people; It is due to lack of intimacy. Frientimacy is a relationship where both people feel seen in a safe and satisfying way. When people say they are lonely, Nelson doesn’t believe that answer is to go out and make more friends, but to deepen current relationships.

    “I ask people this question: ‘Do you feel as loved and supported as you need at this point in your life?’” Nelson says. “If the answer is yes, that’s fabulous, but often the answer is no. When that is the case, I encourage them to consider who in their life they would want to build a more meaningful or closer relationship with and then make a list. Start prioritizing those relationships. 

    “Some people say they have no names to put on their list. For these folks, their journey right now is to get out and meet people who have the potential to be future friends. There are a couple of ways you can do this. Going to places you already frequent like school, work, faith-based or civic organizations - proximity and geography matters. Then be intentional about getting to know them better. The second way is to reach out to people you know and ask them if there are people they think you should know. Take advantage of opportunities for introductions to meet new people at their party, book club, discussion group, etc.” 

    Nelson says the more insane your life is, the more you need meaningful friendships. 

    “Often when I am speaking to moms’ groups, I ask them to write what they remember about their mom and her friends,” Nelson says. “A good 70 percent of women have a hard time completing that assignment. I suspect it happens partly because so many moms try to nurture their friendships at a time that doesn’t inconvenience their kids. However, 30 years down the road, your daughters can’t tell me who your friends are. Friendships need to be modeled. Don’t downplay that part of your life. Deep, meaningful friendships make us better.”

    Once you have identified people on your list, Nelson says to then practice the three things that are the basis of every healthy relationship: positivity, consistency and vulnerability, also known as “the frientimacy triangle.” 

    1. Positivity is about feeling supported, kindness, acts of service, affirmation - all the things that make us feel good. 
    2. Consistency is the hours logged, the history built, interactions and knowing there is consistent behavior in the relationship. This is where trust occurs. 
    3. Vulnerabilit is where we share, reveal, let people beyond the formal living room, talk about what is going well and not so well, history, dreams, and where you feel safe to ask for what you need.

    When we have high levels of each part of the “frientimacy triangle,” we feel seen, safe and satisfied, which is what people want and need. We then have the ability to take existing relationships to a completely different level.

    Our bodies are craving this and are literally dying without connections. World-renowned physician Dean Ornish states, “I am not aware of any other factor in medicine (than intimacy and love) - not diet, not smoking, not exercising, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery - that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes.” 

    According to Nelson, loneliness is as damaging to our bodies as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, the equivalent of being a lifelong alcoholic, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity.

    "How you answer the question, ‘How loved and supported do you feel?’ will tell us more about your health 15-20 years down the road than any other factor,” she says.

    If your relationships aren’t where you want them to be, Nelson encourages you to take action and do something different. Not only do we have the opportunity to make our own lives richer, we can enrich others' lives with our positivity, consistency and vulnerability.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 7, 2019.

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    How to Help Kids Handle Rejection

    When Sara left home on the first day of sixth grade, she was super-excited about starting middle school. She was anything but excited when she got in the car at the the end of the day.

    Sara told her mom that her friends since kindergarten had decided to end their friendship. The leader of group had told them, “We don’t like her anymore,” a statement that launched Sara and her family into a year of chaos.

    Every impulse in Sara’s mom wanted to hunt down those girls, but she knew better than to do that. In conversations with other moms, she asked, “Why all the meanness?” Many of the women had not only experienced this with their children, they had gone through it themselves. In fact, they could still recall the interactions in painstaking detail.

    “Peer pressure and rejection hurts so much because it hits a youngster’s self-esteem, which is still wobbly at best during the preteen and early teen years,” says psychologist Dr. Susan Hickman from the Mental Fitness Institute in Chattanooga.

    “To make it worse, children at this age have not yet developed good filters to distinguish that this type of experience may be more about the other person than about them. They immediately translate the bad behavior of others into seeing themselves as unworthy. In reality, these two are not connected at all.”

    Whether young or old, everyone has the need to belong. So the feeling of rejection hits a person right in the gut.

    “If children can't get a good sense of belonging from a peer group at school, parents have to help them work a little harder to develop a sense of belonging elsewhere, such as through team sports, extracurricular hobbies, neighborhood peers or church groups,” Hickman says. “Once they establish a group with which they can identify, it's much easier to teach them how to dismiss their peers’ bad behavior and grasp the fact that it is really not about them.”

    Hickman believes teaching children mental-fitness skills is the key to navigating these tough situations and evaluating their own feelings. Learning how to challenge and confront false ideas can keep them steady for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, you can help your child with these steps:

    • Develop healthy self-esteem that is not affected by hurtful people's negative opinions. Help them solidify an appropriate sense of self-approval - regardless of others' bad behavior.

    • Learn healthy coping skills in the midst of negative circumstances. Self-talk is a key component to this. It’s important for them to positively cope with emotional upheaval instead of harming themselves or flocking to unsavory peers. Walk them through identifying healthy ways they can cope.

    • Keep perspective. Teach them to assess how much the situation has to do with themselves versus the bully. Get them to ask: Why might this person act this way? This teaches them to identify with the other person and separate themselves from the event. It also helps them look at their own behavior and make necessary changes.

    • Find alternative strategies and resources for fitting in. Trying a new hobby, joining a sports team or even finding another friend group may help. A busy mind is far less likely to think negative thoughts.

    So, how exactly do you teach them these crucial skills?

    “Think of it as you would any other skill, such as tying your shoes,” Hickman says. “Know what you want to teach them and show them the steps to reach their goal. Gently correct any missteps and model the next step for them. Then, have them practice the behavior until it comes naturally.”

    This will take some time and probably patience. But in the end, you will have taught them how to handle life situations and their own emotions with dignity.

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    How Friends Influence Behavior

    You only live once! Life is short, make the most of it! Sow your wild oats while you can!

    You have likely heard these messages or perhaps said them to your teen or a friend. However, those who take the message to heart without any boundaries often experience ongoing ripple effects from their actions or the choices of those around them. For example, consider Olympian Ryan Lochte’s fellow swimmers that night in Brazil or the young man who took the up-skirt pictures at school and sent them to friends.

    In his series, “Guardrails,” Andy Stanley reminds us that friends influence the direction and quality of our lives. Guardrails are things that can protect us from danger, such as going over a cliff.

    “The thing that makes friendship so great is the very thing that makes friendship so dangerous,” says Stanley.

    He contends that people drop their guard when they are around those who accept them. And, when they feel completely accepted, they are much more open to the influence of the people around them.

    Nicholas Christakis, in his TED talk, “The Hidden Influence of Social Networks,” also addresses being open to the influence of other people. Christakis’ research shows that non-drinkers who spend time with people who drink significantly increase their chances of becoming drinkers themselves. This also holds true with risk of divorce, obesity, violence, immoral activity and other issues.

    An ancient proverb even says, “Walk with the wise and become wise. For the companion of fools suffers harm.”

    “Wisdom is contagious,” Stanley asserts. “If you surround yourself with wise people, it is contagious. You will become wiser by just being in their company. A wise person understands that all of life is connected. What you do today, think about today will influence who you are tomorrow. There are no isolated events, thought patterns or relationships.

    “When you are with people who live as if life is connected, who make decisions as if life is connected, it will impact how you make decisions, view the world, your morality, your reputation, your family, everything.”

    Regardless of age and life circumstance, Stanley offers five “red-flag” scenarios that indicate a need for guiding or protective guardrails.

    • You realize that your core group isn’t moving in the direction you want your life go. Having opposite value systems is a cause for concern.

    • You catch yourself trying to being somebody you are not. If you ignore your values in a certain group, you are moving away from who you really are.  People who know you well may say things like, “When you are around them, you are different.”

    • You feel pressure to compromise your values. If something has never been a temptation before and you begin to actually consider it as an option, ask yourself why.

    • You say to yourself, “I’ll go, but I won’t participate.” Although you may not actually do the behavior, you are there when others do it. A companion of fools suffers harm.

    • You hope the ones you love don’t find out where or with whom you have been. It may not be that you have to defend yourself, but something on the inside tenses up when you think about telling them.

    It's true: You only live once. But, it is also true that your actions and the actions of others can powerfully impact you for the rest of your life. Teaching your teen how to put guardrails in place could be one of the most powerful and long-lasting gifts you give them.