Children in the UK are less likely to argue with their mum and more likely to open up to their dad than previously, but while their relationships with their parents are improving, the same isn’t true of their friendships, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
As part of the ONS’s work on national wellbeing, they looked into data related to children aged 10-15 and found that the proportion of kids who argued with their mother more than once a week fell from 30.5% in 2009/10 to 25.8% in 2015/16 and the number of kids who talked to their father about things that mattered to them more than once a week increased from 38% in 2009/10 to 45.2% in 2015/16.
However, the numbers of kids who reported feeling ‘high’ or ‘very high’ happiness with their friends fell significantly from 85.8% in 2015 to 80.5% in 2017, with boys being the main driver of this change.
An NSPCC spokesperson told HuffPost UK that in 2016/17 there were 16,183 Childline counselling sessions about friendship issues, such as falling out or difficulty making friends, and it was one of the most common reasons for children to contact them. So how can parents ensure children are fostering and nurturing their friendships as well as their family relationships?
1) Monitor social media usage.
In the ONS statistics, the proportion of children who reported using social networking sites for more than three hours on a normal school day increased from 8.6% in 2010/11 to 12.8% in 2015/16, with girls more than twice as likely to spend this length of time using social networking sites. Jeremy Todd, CEO at Family Lives, believes this is a crucial point linked to the reduction in value kids are finding in their friendships. “A parent’s job is to monitor that,” he said. “They should encourage children to engage with their friends in different ways. There is no mystery or challenge, it’s just trying to get young people off their devices - the whole discussion around what is real and what is virtual is very central to that.”
2) Encourage your children to get outside and meet IRL.
Todd acknowledged that young people are much more home-based now than they used to be, mostly due to the fact they are have more screen-time. He said parents should encourage their children to physically leave the house and participate in a range of activities with other children.
Do your kids participate in after-school activities or out of school clubs? Make a point of encouraging friendships at these group events where there is a shared interest and enquire about people they may have interacted with while there when you pick them up.
3) Encourage them to talk about their friendships.
As well as building on developing new friendships, an NSPCC spokesperson told HuffPost UK it’s also important your children know they can speak to you about their current friendships, as you may be able to help develop them. “Children handle their friendships in different ways and it’s important that they are encouraged to talk about how their friendships are affecting them,” they said. “Talking through problems is an important part of life and can help children understand how their friends might be feeling or acting.”
Jo Hardy, head of parents services at mental health charity YoungMinds, agreed and said you can help your child develop and maintain good relationships by talking to them regularly about how they feel about their friends - positive or negative. “It’s important to acknowledge that what they feel is real, even if every situation doesn’t seem like a major issue to you,” she said. “As a parent, you will know that some things can be up one day and down the next, and being a source of calm when things are volatile and emotions are fluctuating can really help. You can be their anchor when they’re going through a difficult time.” Children can also contact Childline to talk through their worries about friendship, 24/7 on 08001111 or www.childline.org.uk.
4) Actively enquire about your child’s friends.
Asking about your child’s friends and what they may be doing on a weekend is an opportunity to suggest to your kids ways they could socialise, such as saying: “What is Tom doing today?” or “You haven’t seen Katie in a while”. “You have to be aware your enquiry could be perceived as nagging and intrusive, but that shouldn’t be a reason for you not to do it,” said Todd. “Most parents have a sense of what their child’s friendship group is like so a general enquiry about what they are doing at the weekend and picking anything up is in the interest of your children.”
5) Remind your child about the value of friendships.
As parents, you can model the importance of friendships by showing your children how friends play a part in your own lives. One way of doing this could be speaking to your child about how a friend has helped support you through a tough time in the past. This way, your child will be reminded about the value of having friends in their lives. “While some children may struggle to make friends, they should be encouraged, as friends can be there to enjoy the best times or be there to support each other they’re feeling down,” the NSPCC spokesperson added.