“Jamie was like a magnet. Wherever she went, someone wanted to be with her. It wasn’t unusual to see Jamie listening to a football player share a problem with her, or to spot her showing a new student how to get to the biology lab” (Susie Shellenberger, “Making Friends,” Brio Magazine, Focus on the Family, July 2000, p. 31-33).
In every junior high or high school are teens who have friends and those who do not. The ones who do not are uncomfortable and it is obvious. So how can we help our teens learn how to make friends so they learn to build healthy relationships that will carry them into adulthood?
Let’s look at what it was about Jamie that made everyone notice her. According to Susie Shellenberger, here are Jamie’s secrets:
• “Jamie was nice to everyone!” She was kind to the new student with no friends as well as to the football player, and she refused to associate with only one group of people.
• “Jamie smiled a lot.” The smile means a person is approachable. The smile also insinuates confidence, according to Susie Shellenberger.
• “Jamie knew how to talk and to listen.” It is important to maintain your half of the conversation, but Susie Shellenberger pointed out a problem: “Everyone knows someone who talks all the time. People like that are not much fun to be around . . . .” She said, “I once had a friend whom I often ate lunch with. She talked all the time. As in nonstop. Once in a while, she’d say, ‘Susie, I don’t understand you. You travel all over the place and speak to thousands of teenagers every year, but you sure don’t say much one-on-one.’ I wanted to say, ‘How can I? You never give me a chance!’” Obviously that is one problem, and the other is that few people actually listen. My personal experience with this is that the world is full of people who want to be listened to, and in the world of teens, it is no different. What we are talking about is genuine listening, the kind that means you really care—not the kind where you are thinking about something else.
• The next problem, if you listen to others, is what Jamie learned, and that is how to keep secrets. “A genuine friend is one who can be trusted” (Ibid.). If you know someone likes someone, you don’t run off and tell them.
• But is it ever right to break a secret? “The answer is yes. If your friend is in danger of hurting herself or someone else, you can’t keep that information private” (Ibid.).
Another idea you might encourage is to speak to everyone in the halls at school as well as to exhibit courtesy and good manners. I have seen teens invite friends and potential friends to their home for pizza after a football game. I have seen teens reach out to shy teens by walking to class with them and sitting by them in class. Others notice what kind of a person you are. Jamie obviously was this kind of a girl.
Making friends isn’t always easy. Teens feel uncomfortable as they reach out, and that’s OK. They need to know that. They need to laugh off the teasing that so often exists at school and not take it seriously. Because someone says something does not make it true.
Socially fitting in is a skill that is harder for some than others, but it is a worthwhile skill that can be learned.