Nurturing True Friendships over Popularity

Perhaps the greatest challenge of being “popular” or “cool” is maintaining honest, loyal friendships. By its very nature, cool is fickle. It changes with regularity and to stay cool you have to work to be able to keep up.

For two decades, I’ve been observing friendship dramas in middle schools and little has changed over the years. “Cool” breeds drama. If you want to find out who the cool kids are, listen for the, “I did not say that. She’s lying!” or “She’s just ticked ‘cause she wasn’t invited!” or “No way is she going out with him because she knows that I have liked him forever.” OK, admittedly, I don’t know whteen friendsat boy drama sounds like, if there is such a thing, but I know the insecurity holds true there as well.

Provide your kids with a vision of friendship that is not shallow or fickle. Talk to them about the importance of having a few deep friendships. Certainly they can have a large group of “friends,” but developing and maintaining deep friendships takes work. The following are a few qualities to talk to your kids about friendships:


  • Close friends “have your back.” If anything were ever said about you that was negative and untrue, they would speak the truth or walk away. If what was said was true about you, they would come to you in sincerity to help you with it.


  • Deep friends don’t need to “one-up” each other. If someone accomplished something awesome the true friend is excited about it rather than challenged by it. Rejoice when they rejoice. Mourn when they mourn.


  • Deep friendships are secure. That friend can hang out with other people and not you and your friendship is not weakened. Feeling like you always need to do everything together is a sign of an unhealthy friendship.


  • Deep friendships are safe. You are not afraid to share something about yourself with this person. You can also be yourself without trying to impress this friend. They know the real you and accept you even on crabby days.


  • Deep friends know your family and accept them too. These friends feel comfortable at your house talking to your parents. They don’t think that your parents are lame and your parents like having them around.


One of the problems in today’s culture is that kids literally can have 400, 800, 3500 “friends/followers” on social media. This diminishes the word friend to a person who comments on your life in a public forum. Kids with these types of “friends” aren’t really known for who they are, only for who they present themselves to be. These are the shallowest of relationships. Check out this disturbing article.

Websites like Ask FM exploit insecure, lonely teens who are begging for someone to ask them questions (anonymously) so they can be a little more known. Unfortunately, the questions are often sexual in nature and little more than an opportunity to spread gossip or shred a person’s character. Yet teens continue to keep their accounts open, still hoping to be a little more known by their friends.

Unfortunately, having a lot of followers on any social media site sends a message about how popular someone is. That’s part of the game. If your child “only” has 124 followers, they claim a lower social status than someone with ten times that many. But what if your child isn’t playing that game? Talking about how empty some of these kids feel with their thousands of unknown friends, might be one strategy to help them embrace having real friends rather than a vast collection of fake friends.

One high school senior recently told her mother about the large number of girls who were depressed, some even suicidal, according to lunch table banter at our large public high school. (These were girls who certainly seemed to have a lot of friends.) Perhaps this girl’s openness and closeness with her own mother is one of the reasons she has been spared from being depressed herself. Not being truly known at a deep level is isolating. If kids pull away from their parents emotionally and have only superficial friends, they are totally alone finding their way through teenage drama and angst.

I have (thus far) convinced all four boys to stay away from social media at their age. Quite easier for boys than girls I’m sure. Yes, it is possible to maintain healthy relationships with access to social media, but for too many kids social media is merely one part voyeurism, one part narcissism, one part pure envy and one large part time-waster.

If you allow kids to use social media, it is going to take effort to counter-balance its  possible negative effects. If you want to keep it away from your family, I would suggest working hard to get your teen/tween on the same page rather than simply forbidding its use. 


Keeping kids uncool means having regular conversations about friends and friendship years before they are even interested in social media or popularity.

Talking about what to look for in solid relationships begins with explaining how to be a good friend to others. A good friend doesn’t talk negatively about other people. They are trustworthy and loyal. They are forgiving of minor offenses but bold enough to speak truth when necessary. Strong friendships are mutually respectful. One person does not dominate the relationship. A good friend keeps things private unless the person needs help from an adult. 

As your kids mature beyond “everyone I know is my friend,” ask them a few questions.

Who are your closest friends? What do you like about them? Is there anything you don’t like?

How many friends can you have as close friends? (usually just a couple because of the time required to foster these deeper relationships)

Can you be yourself around this person/people or do you feel like you are trying to impress them?

Who in your life really knows you?

Why do you think that this person wants to text you all the time? Why do they get mad when you don’t text back right away? 

Does this person treat you the same way no matter who else is around? Why do you think it may be different?

Do you have fun with this person in a relaxed way or does it feel stressful?

Do you worry about what you say or what you wear around your friends?

Is this person ever mean or rude to you? When and why? Do you think that this is a relationship worth keeping close or should it be a just a casual friendship?

Which do you think is more fulfilling: many shallow friendships where the person is not really known or a few deep friendships where honest sharing can take place?

Why do you think that some people have thousands of “friends” on social media?

When some kids disconnect emotionally (never a good idea) from their parents and try to develop deep relationships with their friends instead, what problems can occur? Can a fellow teen offer the same unconditional love and wisdom that a parent can?

Being cool and popular takes a lot of “work.” What do you think the payoff is? Do you think that it is worth it?

If you keep changing depending on who you are with, do you really know who you are?

Do your friends bring out the best in you? Do they influence you in a positive way? Negative way?


These conversations will be ongoing and last as long as your kids live in your house. Don’t miss the opportunities that you have to help your children develop positive, life-giving friendships rather than chasing the false promises of popularity and coolness.





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