It's always easy to be a fair-weather friend - the kind of friend who is there for the good times and the laughs and fun, but bolts when the going gets tough. It's during these hard times that friends need each other the most, but this can sometimes weigh too heavily and scare people off. If you don't want to be the kind of friend who lets others down, you'll need to become an expert at supporting your friends when they need you. Don't worry, supporting others doesn't take any special talents. On the contrary, you just need to let your natural patience and empathy shine through.
When Friends Need Each Other
There can be a lot of events during the teenage years that have friends leaning on each other. When you're friends turn to you for support it may be because you are one of the only people who can truly understand what they are going through. Many times your friends will need support when:
- They have fought with their parents.
- Their parents are fighting with each other.
- Their parents have decided to divorce.
- They are fighting with their girlfriend/boyfriend.
- They have just ended a relationship.
- They are having trouble in school.
- They have lost out on a spot on a sports team/dance group/theatre troupe, etc.
- They have not been accepted by the college or university of their choice.
- They discover that their family is moving away.
- They find out that a friend or family member is ill.
- They find out that they are ill.
- They have suffered a traumatic event.
- A friend or family member dies.
Be There For Your Friends
Often when they are upset friends just want someone to lend an open ear. One of the most important ways you can support your friend is to simply be there for them. Answer their calls, meet them when they ask you to or even suggest a sleepover so that you can spend time together. While you listen:
Ask gentle questions. Find out as much as you can about the situation.
- Repeat the story back to them to make sure you understand the facts.
- Let them scream, cry or even throw dishes if necessary. Just not at you!
- Empathise with them.
- Do not interrupt them.
- Do not throw in your own stories. You may see similarities, but your friends most likely won't pay any attention.
- Offer advice only in an emergency; otherwise wait until your friends ask for your opinion.
- Don't judge, particularly not about things that have already occurred. What's done is done and now it is time to move forward.
- Remember that your body language says a lot about how you feel. Nod to show agreement and give encouraging smiles, but remember that silence can also be effective when needed.
Dare to be a Distraction
When you have listened appropriately and it doesn't seem like there's much left to say, the time for talk is over. Dare to be a distraction and find some activities to help your friends take their minds off of their worries. Do not get caught up in activities that are designed to take revenge or inflict punishment, but rather get out, get some fresh air and try to have some fun. Consider:
- A trip to the cinema.
- Organizing an informal sports match in the park.
- Spending an afternoon at the shops.
- Whipping up a feast in the kitchen. Or trying to, anyway!
- Hosting a DVD marathon.
- Taking a daytrip to the nearest big city or town (with permission, of course).
- Find some animal attraction at the zoo.
- Helping someone else at a shelter, hospital or nursing home.
Know When to Act
It is important to remember that while you can support your friends when they need you, you can't solve their problems for them. Sometimes you'll realise that your friends need more help or support than you alone can provide, and knowing when to ask for assistance is important. Even if your friends have asked you to keep a secret, if you are uncomfortable with this you are well within your rights to discuss the situation with:
- Your parents.
- A teacher.
- A school counselor.
- A sports coach.
Supporting your friends when they need you is a skill that will serve you well throughout your life. Be yourself, be patient and you'll soon realise that supporting a friend in need makes you a good friend, indeed.
Written by Beth Morrisey