In a culture replete with Facebook “friending,” Instagram “liking,” and Twitter “following,” it seems that the once obvious line between intimate connection and casual acquaintance becomes ever more blurry for a generation of kids growing up entrenched in social media.
The fact is “friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family” (Proverbs 18:24). My concern is that teenagers repeatedly see their friends “come and go” on social media but rarely experience the “true friend” who “sticks by you like family.”
Because too often, our teens focus on how many friends or followers, tags or likes they have. And that’s the extent of their consideration.
For example, my daughter recently lamented that one of her followers on Instagram unfollowed her, lowering the number to “just” 110.
With all the focus on quantity — on the amount of people who “come and go” — is there a way to realign our kids’ attention on the quality of those relationships? to help them discern whether or not a person might be a true friend who sticks by them like family?
When teaching high school English, I learned that a good way to help foster self-reflective students was to ask questions and listen well.
That said, here are a four conversation-starters to get our teenagers thinking about the quality of their friendships — both online and otherwise:
1. Do you feel “built up” after connecting with this friend?
Words hold power, the ability to build or destroy. People who deliberately seek to encourage are people who refresh and energize their company.
Are you refreshed and energized by your companions, and likewise, are you someone who refreshes and energizes others with your words?
True friends will try to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of [their] mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, emphasis mine).
2. Does this friend overlook your flaws?
We are all broken and therefore sharp, prone to cutting others (sometimes unintentionally) with our words and actions. Similarly, our friends bear jagged edges as well.
Our closest comrades understand that we are flawed and decide to “love [us] deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). They cover and forgive an offense seeking love, instead of harping on a matter which can separate even the closest of friends (Proverbs 17:9).
3. Does this friend provide strength when you are weak?
“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
Taking it a step further, is this a friend who can help you steer clear of a fall in the first place?
Think about areas in which you are weak. Would this friend help you make wise and godly choices? And if you succumbed to temptation, would this friend help you get back on the right track with God?
4. With this friend, do you have the freedom to talk about your relationship with God?
At Pentecost when all the disciples were gathered together in one place, the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Can you guess what they talked about? The Bible says they were heard “declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11).
When looking at your friendships, to whom are you able to freely speak of God? to whom are you able to freely explore your journey with Jesus?
There is a unique camaraderie — a wild freedom — among people who deliberately take time together to share what God teaches them in life and through His Word. In fact, friendship flourishes in this space.
My prayer is that these questions serve to open a line of communication between parents and teenagers about the important topic of friendship… and that teens will walk away thinking it was “real talk,” indeed!
What questions would you add to this list? I’d love to see you share your ideas in the comments below!