Circles of Influence in Teen Friendship

How can we teach teens to discern a good friendship? The new XP3 series Real Friends will help middle and high school leaders tackle these questions!
Real Friends Teen Friendship



I’ll never forget the moment a particular girl in my small group started yelling this phrase. Not really at me but just yelling in general. They were sophomores at the time and we had just begun a late night discussion during a weekend retreat. I had tried to open with a light icebreaker but she wasn’t having it. And pretty soon the entire group chimed in echoing her frustration. 


“This is ridiculous,” she went on.

“You guys are ALWAYS saying we’re supposed to be friends with people different from us. Love our neighbor. Be kind to everybody and ALL THAT STUFF. Then THIS GUY (she seethed referring to the speaker on stage at our retreat) says we’re supposed to keep our distance from bad influences. Which is it?!” 


It was a pretty good question. And, while their intensity surprised me, it was really encouraging to see these teenagers care so much about their faith and their friends that they refused to accept vague answers. 


For most teenagers, it can be difficult to figure out the balance between “loving our neighbor” and being wise about our friends. That’s why a few years ago we created a tool to help church leaders and volunteers walk students through a process of discernment about their friendships. 


Helping Teens Discern About Friendships


The premise is simple. Friendship is not an on/off switch. There are levels. Some friends are closer than others. Some you spend more time with. Some you are friendly with but not necessarily best friends. To illustrate, we talk about how Jesus. . . 


  • Loved a crowd
  • Was close with 12 disciples
  • Was very close with a few friends


Thinking about their own friendships in similar circles of influence may be helpful. 


  • Some friends need to be in your crowd or your outer friend group. 
  • Other friends can be really good friends and a little bit closer. 
  • A few friends can be your best friends in your inner circle. 


In this way, a friend isn’t either “in” or “out.” Instead, friends can move closer if they’re someone a teenager wants to have more influence in his or her life. And, they can move further out (without a dramatic breakup conversation) if they’re someone to be loved, but not necessarily a member of the inner circle. Regardless of the direction that a person is moving in the friendship, the goal is to be kind. 


Teaching Teens to be Both Wise and Kind with Friendships


At this stage of development, it can be difficult for teenagers to hold two seemingly opposite ideas in tandem.  And, when it comes to choosing friends, being both wise and kind can seem impossible. At the same time, who they choose to be friends is probably more important at this stage than ever. 


That’s why the “circles of influence” conversation can be so helpful for both middle schoolers and high schoolers as they figure the complicated world of teenage friendship. It provides them with a way to not only choose friends wisely, but also love their neighbors. 


We can’t wait to address these topics in our new XP3 series, Real Friends. To try out XP3 curriculum for free, click here!


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