relationship is the interaction between two or more people. It varies in type, intensity, and commitment. Adolescents commonly have relationships with families (parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents), friends, and the larger society (school, community). Relationships are important because they provide companionship, support and comfort; help us to feel loved, needed and wanted; and enable us share experiences. Life can thus be meaningless without good and satisfying relationships. It is therefore important to know the factors that impact on our relationships. These include: respect, understanding, sincerity, values, communication, self-esteem, and perception of others. How we treat others, their feelings and opinions, go a long way to determine the kind of relationship we have.

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People are raised in families and most live in families. A family consists of two or more people related to each other by blood or marriage. Family members related to us by blood are called “in-laws”. Can you guess why? They are so called because the “law of marriage” joins us with them! That’s why you have brothers-in-law, mother-in-law, uncles-in-law, etc. You even have cousins-in-law!

Your family is your first social contact and is where you first learn about relationships. How your parents relate to each other, to you and your siblings, your grandparents, as well as others around you, will have a lifelong effect on you and every other member of your family. This is why family relationships is very important and every effort should be made to have a healthy one. Each member of the family has a role to play in ensuring this and these roles complement one another.

Types of Families

There are many different kinds of families, varying by culture, structure and size. A nuclear family is most common and consists of a father, mother and at least one child. An extended family consists, in addition to the members of the nuclear family, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and in-laws. Do you see why it is called “extended”! This type of family is most common in Africa and Asia. Another type of family is the single-parent family, which includes an unmarried, divorced or widowed father or mother, raising a child or children. A fourth type of family is the step-family. In this case, the mother and father have remarried and children from the previous marriage live with the new parent and their children. A fifth type of family is the adoptive family. Here the family consists of a mother and/or a father and legally adopted children.

As you can see, the list goes on and on, but what is important is to realize that despite these differences, the role of the family stays the same. Let us look at some of these roles:

Roles of the Family

Perhaps the most important role of the family is to provide an emotionally supportive environment for its members to lead meaningful and gratifying lives, and reach their fullest possible potential. This can be achieved through love, care, protection and stability. Other roles of the family include provision of the physical needs of its members, e.g. food, clothing, shelter; and teaching of values and attitudes about life and relationships.

The Adolescent Within the Family
  • A child depends on his/her parents to fulfill most needs.
  • Adult family members usually decide a child’s rights and responsibilities. However, you have rights as a child that must be respected by adults in the family.
  • Teen age marks the beginning of the process of developing independence. This comes with increasing responsibility for yourself and others.

As children grow older and “try to find” themselves, conflicts may occur with parents, siblings, and/or other members of the family. This can get very turbulent for all members of the family because of the conflicts that arise about what to wear, curfew, friends, household duties/responsibilities, trust and values. If this phase adolescents are passing through is not carefully handled, it can lead to very serious consequences that may strain family relationships for life. It is therefore important for families to communicate, respect one another’s rights, and show patience and understanding with one another. Some of the things could do to ease likely tension include:

  1. Understanding that adolescence can be a time of stress for all members of the family and should be handled with care.
  2. Understanding and accommodating each person’s uniqueness. Despite the commonalities that members of a family share, each member has a unique personality and effort must be made to accommodate this.
  3. Having open and honest communication about feelings and experiences.
  4. Adolescents should try to understand that their parents are not trying to stifle their desire to be their own person, but are only trying to ensure they are not harmed or get into trouble.
  5. Parents should take an active interest in their children and through their actions, show they are loving, supportive and understanding parents.

Friendships are important throughout life. It is especially important for adolescents because teens feel their friends are the only ones who understand them and so want to always be with them. Peer group relationships tend to be more open and intense, and young people can benefit from interacting with many friends. This is because teens can share emotions and experiences, their fears and frustrations, and their goals and dreams. This sharing helps teens to realize they are not alone and have similar challenges as their friends. This appreciation can lead to lifelong friendships, though not always.

Have you noticed that many teens would do almost anything to belong in a group? Acceptance by and membership of a group is of great importance to young people, and can lead many teens to charge their behaviour in order to conform to the group “codes”. This can be very traumatic for some teens, especially if the group’s behaviour conflicts with the teen’s values. It is therefore very important for teens to develop a strong sense of self, and be able to deal with peer group pressure, so their values will not be compromised. Many teens who compromise their values in order to belong to a group usually aren’t happy about their decision.

Qualities of a good friendship

The following qualities are required to establish positive relationships with friends:

  • Honesty
  • Equality
  • Respect
  • Humor
  • Acceptance
  • Consistency
  • Understanding
  • Sincerity
  • Sharing
Dealing with peer pressure

We noted earlier that the desire to belong in a group could cause some teens to change their behaviour to conform to the group’s standard. This behaviour change can both be positive or negative. Negative pressure could be having to start smoking to belong in a group. Positive pressure could be responsible sexual behaviour, such as using protection during sex or faithfulness to one partner. What’s important is that you should not allow yourself to be pressured into doing what you are not comfortable with. If you have to do something you don’t want to in order to be accepted in a group, then you should not be in the group at all!

Dealing with situations like this requires some skills. These include:

Assertiveness. Communicate your feelings/views about any issue clearly and repeatedly.

Self-esteem. Develop a positive self-worth about yourself. With this, you will not be easily pressured into doing something you don’t want to do.

Consistency. By this we mean standing by what you believe in and being steadfast. If you are not consistent, you send mixed messages to your friends and they will not take you seriously.

Take Action. There is a popular saying that “action speaks louder than words.” Back your words with action. If you say you don’t like something and will take some action if such behaviour is repeated, then do what you say you will when that behaviour is repeated.

Since we live in a world with numerous other people, we are bound to interact with other members of the society outside our family, such as people at school, parks, recreation clubs, places of worship, etc. These relationships can be rewarding, but because these are not people we know well, we need to pursue them with caution, until we are sure the people can be trusted. Here are some things to keep in mind as you relate with people outside your immediate family.

  • Visitors, including family members, close friends, or strangers, visit the home, but not all visitors are to be trusted.
  • Some people we meet at airports, railway stations, crowded buses and other public places may have ulterior motives. Never trust a stranger.
  • It is better if you do not accept gifts (e.g. ice cream, sweet/candy), especially from strangers. Not all gifts are without obligations, even from people we know. It is always better not to seek favours.
  • Young people may be influenced positively or negatively by members of their class, teachers, and other children in school. Learn to distinguish positive from negative influences.
  • It is better for you to tell your parents or guardian about new friends you make.
  • Other people such as friends, neighbours, teachers, family members, or strangers, do not have the right to touch your genitals or sexual organs. You should report to your parents if your genitals are touched by anybody.
  • Bosses and colleagues at work may have desires and expectations from us that extend beyond the requirements of our schedule of duty. Learn to recognize such situations.
  • Relationships with other members of the society require cordiality and politeness, but this should not lead to exploitation.