Your son's life-long best friend is two years older. Now that they're 12 and 14, two years seems like a decade. How can you help?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
Two years is a decade at that stage of life. The older friend will get into certain movies sooner, will start high school two years earlier, may start dating sooner and will have his driver's license two years sooner (and your son will not be permitted to ride along, right?). If the older boy is pulling away a bit, you can help your son understand that that's the way it goes sometimes. If your son is eager to keep up with his older bud, you'll have to be sure he doesn't get into age-inappropriate activities, and you'll have to be the bad guy saying, "I don't care if Andrew is (doing/going whatever). You're not."
Consider organizing, in a totally casual way, some all-age event you know both would enjoy: Baseball game? Trip to an auto show/outdoors show? Comics convention? Not an every-weekend thing, but something occasional. The friendship between the two may evolve to another dynamic that's comfortable for both kids.
If a friendship has lasted a lifetime, it should have a basis of affection and respect, so trust those. Talk with your son about situations that arise. If the older friend wants to do something or go somewhere that is not age-appropriate for your son, offer to be the bad guy so your son can save face and say, "I'd love to, but my over-protective parents won't let me!"
You can help by realizing that this is a really, really huge deal to your son … or no big deal at all. Or maybe both. On the same day.
"Friendships in those years often shift every couple months," says psychologist Anthony Rao, author of "The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World" (William Morrow). "Great friendships break down and come back together over and over. It can seem really frenetic to parents, but we should step back and support and not try to engineer or fix it."
A friendship with a two-year spread, especially at 12 and 14, is likely to hit a rough patch at some point.
"A 12-year-old, particularly a boy, still has one foot in childhood: toys, activities, things he likes to play with. Whereas a 14-year-old has crossed completely into a new social world where he's leaving objects and toys in favor of social media and is becoming highly status-conscious. His thinking starts to become more abstract and he's looking at his identity and society and how he fits into it. A lot of 12-year-old boys go around looking like they've just rolled out of bed and don't think too much about it."
That dichotomy doesn't make a friendship impossible, of course. But it throws a few hurdles into the mix. And that may not be a bad thing.
"It's actually good for them to try to make as many friends as possible during the pre-teen and teen years," says Rao. "A lot of their experience knowing who they like and who they are and where they fit in happens by having many, many relationships. And some of those relationships have to break down."
If your son is feeling hurt or rejected, though, he could use some comforting and some perspective —provided you're subtle.
"It can be a very wounding thing for the kid who gets left behind," says Rao. "It's a good time to beef up your compliments in areas that your son has some control over. 'Wow, you're the master of the universe in karate lately!' "
You might also offer examples of relationships in your own life that have ebbed and flowed over the years, knowing that a two-year age difference will seem like a blip when they've grown into adults.
And take care to keep the conversation positive, even if you think your son's pal is being a pill.
"Never diss the kid or the kid's family," Rao says. "Whenever we start getting really emotional, it's probably a cue that this is tapping into memories of something that happened to us. It's important to think of this as a fantastic teachable moment."
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