Claire Hailwood suggests the questions you need to ask if your child’s friend is much older or younger


”Mum, can Jo come for dinner tonight?”

It’s a regular request that is usually met with a ”yes”.

Jo* was a name I didn’t know so I asked who it is and whether their adult knew where they were going and reminded my teenager to pass on my contact information.

During this conversation I discovered Jo was two school years below (and yes the adult was happy and knew the arrangement!)

While they were at our house there were various interactions that I observed: over mealtime, as they wrecked the kitchen during their extreme baking session:, as I drove them for additional ingredients to the shop. I was interested to see the dynamics of the relationship. In my experience it’s unusual for teenagers to choose to be with those in younger year groups within high school.

A few days later my teenager pleaded for time beyond her screen limits because Jo was having an emergency and only they could respond.

All of this was raising questions for me. Is this an appropriate or equal friendship? Was there subtext that I was missing? What was each party getting from the relationship? Did I need to do something to respond?

A few years earlier I was asking similar question when another teenager who was part of our family for a time was growing a friendship with someone two to three years older than them. I recognised that some of that experience was colouring my perspective on the current developing friendship.

Simultaneously I was wondering if I had massively missed the point. Maybe all I was seeing was an extension of how we live our lives?

One of the things I love about the church is the breadth of people who are different to us, that we get to do life with. Around our table regularly are people of different ages, backgrounds, cultures and more – I celebrate the richness this diversity brings me (and my children).

Relationships can be difficult, problematic, and challenging to navigate at any stage of life and so much of adolescence is taken up with learning and understanding what’s healthy, acceptable and safe, and how to get there (or get out). There is so much to learn and some of this happens as we make mistakes. Young adults can be more vulnerable or susceptible to influence (positively or negatively) and as those alongside them we need to pay attention.

Here are some questions that I’ve found helpful in trying to decide what to do next

  • Does the friendship/relationship feel ‘normal’ (in my teenager’s world)?
  • Is there increased secrecy or changes in behaviour that accompany the new friendship/relationship?
  • Are there any new or different requests for stuff they want, things they want to do or watch, that concern you?

If the answer is yes, then there might be some more to explore in order to understand better – only then can we make great decisions about what, if anything, we need to do.

  • How’s the power dynamic in the relationship?
  • Is there equality – even if one is more naturally ‘leading’ – do both have agency in it? If not, or if I’m not sure, then perhaps it’s a prompt to learn more?
  •  Who are the adults in the other young person’s life? Have you met them or connected in any way? Could you?

Some of the most helpful insights I’ve had as I’ve journeyed through developing friendships with my teenagers (in this scenario and many others) have come from adults; specific insight from them or understanding I have gained after meeting or connecting with them.

And on the few occasions when that’s not been possible, it has been enlightening in other ways.

Most importantly – the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as our guide and our helper. The more I value His presence in me, the more I learn when and how He’s leading me. Sometimes that manifests as an instinct or gut feeling about a friendship or individual. Listening to Him has enabled me to journey with my teenagers better than anything else.

*Not their real name