Can parents be substitute friends?

Published: November 11, 2011 | Last Updated: November 11, 2011 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading

can’t replace teen friendships but they can help fill lonely hours



Hello Irene, 

Over the years my daughter has
struggled with social issues and having friends. Like many of the stories I
read, our daughter is beautiful, athletic, top grades, straight (no drinking or
smoking), good at conversations etc. etc. 
Yet, her friendships seem to fizzle out. She is a real sweetheart, kind,
and giving and yet she does not get that in return (at least not consistently).


A few years ago, she was having a hard
time with it, had an eating disorder, and saw a therapist. She was making some
strides with her social life, but then things seemed to skid. It’s breaking our
hearts. We don’t know how to react or how to interact with our daughter at times.  


When there are weekends where she has nothing
to do, do we try to "friend" her and go to movies, plays, etc. or do
we ignore it? She will be off to college next year and she believes that it’s a
new start, new people, with fewer cliques, and that she can hang with people
more readily that have common interests.


Our concerns are trying to get her to
feel good about herself and to help her in college so that she doesn’t find
herself in the same situation miles away from home. Does a new
environment really change things?

Signed, Concerned Mom



Dear Concerned Mom, 

Your daughter sounds like a lovely young woman. Let me try
to respond to the two issues you raised:


1) Parents can’t substitute for friends but they can help
young people feel a bit less lonely if they are having social problems. Try to
encourage your daughter not to give up on making friends until next year.
Encourage her to participate in extracurricular activities or clubs,
particularly ones that are not school-based, so she can meet people her age
with common interests.


And while you can’t take the place of friends, it’s fine to
spend time together as mother-and-daughter, or for your daughter to do fun
things with other family members. Just make sure that family time isn’t so
excessive that it’s a way of avoiding spending time with peers. Regardless of
age, it’s nice to maintain a healthy balance between family time vs. friend


2) Yes, college can be a whole new experience that will give
your daughter a chance to leave her past behind — if she has the skills
to cultivate and nurture new friendships. Another nice thing is that she will
be thrown into a larger pool of people and may have an easier time finding
friends to whom she can relate. Even though she will be away, it’s likely
you’ll communicate with her pretty regularly to make sure things are going smoothly.
Visiting day and the holidays will also give you the opportunity to get
together with her in-person. Given your daughter’s history of an eating
disorder, it’s normal that you would be a bit concerned about her welfare when
she is on her own.


I think that your daughter’s positive attitude about the
future is a very good sign but you mentioned that she was seeing a therapist
before things began to "skid." Do you think it might be worthwhile for her to see
that person, with whom she has already established a relationship, for a
session or two to see if the therapist has any other ideas about why your
daughter is having problems socially again? The fleeting nature of her
friendships may or may not be purely situational.  

Hope this helps. 

Warm regards, Irene



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Comments (3)

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  1. jas says:

    parents cannot be replace as friends. they can guide you along but that doesn’t meant they can be your playmate. child have to understand the meaning of having a true friendship with real bonding and feelings. memories will always be there; no man is an island.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The reply to the blog is a bit pessimistic, but some good points are taken. The “negative” reputation is probably what you stated…naive, gullible, nerdy, etc.

    Though, I don’t see a big difference from what the reply person stated versus Dr. Irene. Both stated that new friendships can be had in college, hopefully she will be able to respond better in social situations…

  3. Anonymous says:

    I respectfully disagree on a few points. A lot of people tend to give a very limited window of opportunity when it comes to allowing others to connect. Once that window is gone, chances are unlikely that people will allow that person another shot. I’m willing to guess that the daughter has a negative reputation of some kind (almost definitely undeserved) and it has sullied her chances at school. I think her time would be better spent getting as much time in with her therapist as possible before college. The high school scene might need to be written off as a lost cause. I have very similar issues to this daughter. Kind, sincere, and giving people are too often used and/or mocked by those with greater street sense. Unfortunately, the daughter might need to learn to be less kind and giving, to prevent her being pegionholed as “easy” and “fun to mess with”.

    I do not say any of this out of malice. We live in an unforgiving wold unfortunately, and kindness is not prized. People are encouraged to use each other, and deep friendships based on trust, kindness and respect are very rare.
    I’m sorry.

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