Okay, I know that sounds harsh, but this truth is actually a good thing! There are people who develop life-long friendships that started when they were children, but this is a pretty rare experience. Friendships do change and most often for the better.
When I was in junior high I had two best friends, Mark and John. You’d rarely see one of us without the other two. We were going to be best friends forever. We dreamed of all living in the same neighborhood so our kids could all be friends too.
By the time we finished 9th grade, things began to change. John went to a private school. I got a job. Mark got a girlfriend.
We didn’t even notice how our friendship began to drift apart. It wasn’t intentional. It just happened.
Every once in a while John and I will still get together for breakfast. Neither of us have seen Mark in years and don’t even know where he lives.
As I look back, I realize that as those friendships ended, new ones developed. When I started high school I developed new interests and made new “best friends forever.” Then I went away to college and this process started all over again.
Friends are a great blessing in our life. Gallop Research says that most people will have between 100-200 friends – and of these we have a deep and close friendship with 8.6 people. (I’m still trying to figure out which of my friends is the .6).
The average teen today has about 1,000 Facebook friends. I read recently about a woman who complained because Facebook limited her to only 5,000 friends. I guess the goal for many is to have more friends that we can count up rather than we can count on.
Developing deep friendships with people we can count on is an important part of life. Proverbs 12:26 reminds us that “The righteous choose their friends carefully.” And Proverbs 18:24 reminds us that “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin.”
Helping our kids through this process of discerning friendships is one of our most important roles as parents.
Friendships often morph as kids get older, change schools, join new activities, or meet other new kids. Often friendships are seasonal. When my sons played on sports teams, deep friendships developed. For a time, they seemed to do everything with their teammates. When the season ended, so did many of those friendships.
Some friendships end quickly. Others sort of phase out over time. There could be a thousand reason why a friendship ends.
The ending of a friendship can sometimes be very difficult for both kids and parents. Even when the decision to end a friendship is mutual, it can still be painful.
When our kids are young, we as parents get to choose their playmates. As kids get older and enter school, they will choose their friends. Being a friend is a skill that they will need to learn and develop. Kids will learn what it takes to be a good friend. Kids also learn that being selfish, controlling, mean, or unreliable can end a friendship pretty fast.
There are times as a parent that you will need to help your child end a friendship. When our son was eight years old he went to play at the home a new friend. When I arrived to pick him up, the friend’s mom told me that the kids had been having so much fun playing with the Ouija Board (a board that spiritualists claim allow you to talk with the dead). I actually was so stunned I couldn’t speak. Maybe I should have been more upfront with this mom, but it just didn’t seem to be a good idea. Over the next few months when the mom called to invite our son to play, we politely declined saying he was unavailable.
Most often though, kids will decide if they want a friendship to continue or end. If your child feels the need to end a friendship, teach them to do this gracefully. Talk to them about being kind to the other person as they move away from the relationship. Remind them never to say anything negative about this person to others or on social media. Let your child know that it is possible for a friendship to rekindle months or even years. How they end a friendship will show their true character.
It is possible that when a child ends a friendship with one person, it will affect relationships with other friends as well. This happened to the Apostle Paul. When he decided to end his relationship with John Mark, it had repercussions in his relationship to their mutual friend Barnabas. In the end, Barnabas decided to leave Paul and go with John Mark. My guess is that this was not Paul’s intention and that he was probably hurt by this. In the end, Paul developed a new friendship with Silas and they went on one missionary journey, while Barnabas and John Mark went on another.
Our greatest challenge as parents is responding to the hurt and rejection that our kids feel when someone else ends a friendship. This can be a very painful experience both kids and parents. How you deal with it will model to your kids how they should respond.
The best thing that we can do when a friendship ends is to assure our kids that they are both loved and loveable. Explain reasons why friendships sometimes end. Many times it really has nothing to do with them. Help them explore reasons that might have contributed to the breakup. There may be things that they can change to be a better friend the next time around. Share your own stories of friendship challenges. Help them understand that as we grow older, we most often develop deeper, closer, and longer-lasting friendships.
Our capacity for friendship is limited. We only have the time and energy to invest in so many relationships outside our family. Jesus had twelve close friends. Even as adults, we may from time to time need to re-evaluate our friendships. We may need to step away from some friendships to allow space for others to grow. This is not a bad thing. I’ll never forget years ago when my son asked me if could change his money with my money. When I asked my he would want to do that he said, “I’d rather have four quarters than one hundred pennies.” That may just be good wisdom for friendships too.
“A sweet friendship refreshes the soul”
Proverbs 27:9 MSG