Picture the scene: you just started high school, and you barely know anyone. Or you moved, and you’re starting over completely. Or perhaps you’ve been at school for a while but haven’t yet managed to form any close relationships. In each of these situations, making friends can feel like a terrifying challenge.
For one thing, you’re not sure if these people are even interested in making new friends. They may already have their clique set in stone. For another, they may not even like you. And even if they are available to meet new people, and you do want to show that you like them, you’re also worried about coming across as desperate—because then, you think, they’ll definitely be turned off.
It’s enough to make any teen overwhelmed. But if you have social anxiety, these feelings are even more pronounced. According to the DSM, teens with social anxiety have a “persistent fear of…situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating…”
Um, hello, high school.
The Three Things You Need to Make a Close Friend
A popular 2012 New York Times article cited research that stated the three necessary ingredients to make a close friend: “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.”
Let’s go over these:
Being geographically close to the person helps create close friendships. A study called “Does Proximity Matter?” (Preciado, 2012) analyzed 336 adolescents in a small town in Sweden. It found teens were more likely to be friends with others in the same school or neighborhood as them. In fact, the farther the two friends lived from each other, the less of a chance they were friends, or close friends. This doesn’t mean that you can’t stay friends with a teen if you move away, or if you live halfway across the country. It just means that the dynamics of your friendship will change. To find good friends, first look around your block, or at school. Many teens become friends with their classmates or club members. Being physically near a person will help you maintain the friendship, especially because it makes it easier to fulfill the next criteria on the list…
Repeated, unplanned interactions:
Familiarity breeds attraction. Seeing someone often, without scheduling the meeting, is another condition in making a good friend. That’s why some of the best friends you make might be, again, at school or in your neighborhood—where you’re likely to bump into them in the hallway, in homeroom, in the cafeteria, or at recess between classes. Or, even if you don’t go to the same school as them, it’s still possible to have repeated, unplanned encounters if you live in the same city. For example—you might see them in the supermarket, at church/synagogue, at Target, the library, or on the street.
Settings that encourage sharing:
While unplanned encounters are important, another criterion that’s necessary for close friendships to develop is being in an environment where you two are able to let your guard down and share confidences. That means you have to have more than the “Hey, what’s up?” head-nod between classes, or the perfunctory “How you doing?” at the store. You need to have DMCs. (Deep, Meaningful Conversations, if you’re unfamiliar with teen-speak.)
Of course, it’s hard to have a DMC in the 5 minutes between rushing to Chem from Math. That’s why it’s important to spend longer periods of time, in more relaxed settings (think: hanging out at the mall, studying for finals together, eating lunch together in the cafeteria, getting together on the weekends, etc.) so you can get beyond the superficial talk. Regularly having more serious or intimate discussions—about yourself, your struggles, your hopes and dreams—will help you two become closer than just acquaintances.
Social Anxiety and DBT
Still worried about making friends?
If you have social anxiety, all this theoretical talk is fine and good, but when it comes down to real life, you can’t even imagine saying “hi” to someone in school without breaking into a sweat. Let alone going to a group event—that’s panic-attack material.
If your anxiety is stopping you from making any progress in your social life, you may need professional treatment. Treatment can include therapy (Dialectical Behavior Therapy or Cognitive Behavior Therapy), medication, and complementary therapies. In DBT, there is an entire module devoted to Interpersonal Effectiveness, which talks about making and managing healthy friendships (and relationships in general).
For more on social anxiety, see: https://evolvetreatment.com/blog/how-to-help-a-teen-with-extreme-social-anxiety/