Navigating Difficult Peer Relationships In Adolescence

Learn about the importance of positive peer relationships in adolescence. Explore the challenges and how to foster healthy relationships with peers.

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The Importance of Developing Positive Peer Relationships

Adolescence is often a tumultuous period of life for many. During this stage of development, teens try to find their place in the world by navigating complex social relationships with their peers and developing their social skills. Developing these positive peer relationships in adolescence is essential for emotional and mental well-being.

Making supportive connections with peers can improve self-esteem, social skills, and academic performance as well.1

Peer Relationships in Adolescence

Impact of Negative Peer Relations

Negative relationships with peers can lead to unhealthy behaviors and isolation. Teens need to find positive peer groups that they feel comfortable in and that offer support. Strengthening these relationships can help adolescents better understand the world around them. It can also help them manage difficult emotions and develop social skills later in life.

Some ways to develop peer relationships in adolescence include joining team sports or activities, learning healthy communication at home or at school, and finding healthy ways to deal with conflict.

Types of Peer Relationships in Adolescence

Adolescents can form various types of peer relationships. These can include close friendships with individuals or much broader social networks. Some adolescents may prefer to spend time in small groups and keep their relationships close-knit. Others may have larger, more diverse social circles and engage in activities with larger groups of people.

In general, peer relationships in adolescence can be categorized into three main types:2


These relationships are based on mutual understanding and respect between peers. People in these types of relationships take the time to listen to one another and offer each other support during difficult times.

Individuals in supportive peer relationships value each other’s needs and respect boundaries. Based on trust and mutual understanding, these relationships can provide a sense of comfort and security.


Competitive relationships involve peers striving to be better than each other in some area or field. They can often be characterized by comparison, competition, and a desire to “one-up” each other.

In competitive peer relationships, individuals strive to outperform each other and gain recognition. They often enjoy the challenge and feel motivated to do better than their peers.


Risky peer relationships involve peers engaging in activities that can be potentially dangerous. Activities like drinking, smoking, or drug use often come with risks like legal consequences and health issues.

Individuals in risky peer relationships often encourage each other to take risks and engage in risky behaviors. They may also be more likely to develop unhealthy habits or behavior patterns.

Why Adolescents Struggle With Peer Relationships

Adolescence is a time of rapid physical, emotional, and social development. This process can be difficult for teens as they struggle with their newfound independence and try to find their own place in the world. Some reasons that many struggle with peer relationships in adolescence include:

Changes in Brain Development

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for decision-making. Until one is in their mid-twenties, this region of the brain is still developing. These changes can lead to impulsivity and difficulty in regulating emotions. This can make it difficult for teens to manage their relationships with peers and make wise decisions.3

Struggles with Identity Formation

Adolescence is a time when teens are figuring out who they are. The process of identity formation is often marked by confusion, uncertainty, and self-doubt.

They often compare themselves to others and attempt to fit in with certain social groups. This can make it difficult for them to form meaningful relationships. They are often more focused on trying to fit in than on building genuine connections.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is when an individual’s peers influence their behavior or beliefs. This happens because teenagers are more likely to conform to the opinions and behaviors of the groups they belong to. Some types of peer pressure are negative, leading to poor peer relationships in adolescence.

Changing Social Norms

Ever-evolving social norms often shape peer relationships in adolescence. In terms of what is considered “cool” or “acceptable,” these standards are constantly shifting.

Adolescents who don’t keep up with the latest trends may feel left out or ostracized by their peers. This can lead to feelings of isolation and insecurity.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

There are many types of ACEs, including neglect, trauma, and experiencing or witnessing violence. Young people might be unable to form healthy relationships with peers, teachers, or other adults as a result of these experiences.

How to Form Healthy Peer Relationships in Adolescence

Adolescence is an important time for developing healthy relationships. Encouraging honest and open communication between peers is key. They should learn to form relationships based on mutual respect, understanding, and trust.

Building Trust

Healthy peer relationships in adolescence are based on trust. Allowing peers to share their thoughts and feelings without judgment can create a strong bond.

Setting Boundaries

While teens should be open to exploring new ideas, they must also know when to draw the line and stick with it. Establishing limits for what is or isn’t acceptable helps create a safe, comfortable space between peers.

Learning Conflict Resolution

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship. Different opinions can create tension, but it can also be an opportunity to learn.

Manage disagreements through compromise and understanding. Adolescents should learn to listen, ask questions, and work together to reach a resolution.

Respect for Differences

Peer relationships are an excellent opportunity to learn about different cultures, beliefs, and perspectives. Embracing diversity and respecting those who are different creates an environment of acceptance and understanding.

Building Resilience and Self-Esteem in Adolescents

Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and adversity. It helps adolescents to recognize their strengths and use them to overcome challenges.

Self-esteem is based on an individual’s perception of themselves. It gives them the confidence to trust their abilities and make decisions. Studies have found that self-esteem is regarded as a protective factor for resilience in adolescents.4

Together, these traits can help adolescents develop positive mental health and well-being.

Peer Relationships and Their Influence on Self-Esteem

Peer relationships play a role in developing resilience and self-esteem in adolescents. Peers can provide support and motivation for each other. When adolescents do this, they can gain insight into their own emotions and reactions.

Teens can build resilience by engaging in activities that promote joy, exploration, and connection. Adolescents also benefit from activities that involve setting and reaching goals. Working towards something can help them recognize their personal achievements and boost confidence. Parents or guardians can also help teach their children by spending quality time together and talking about feelings and experiences.

Counseling for Improving Peer Relationships in Adolescence

Seeking professional guidance can benefit adolescents struggling with peer relationships. These treatment approaches have been proven to be effective in improving social relationships.5

Counseling can provide a safe and supportive atmosphere. It helps teens to express their feelings and practice healthy relationship skills. A counselor creates an individualized plan of action to help the teen identify and overcome their challenges. 

They can develop techniques to manage emotions and communication. Some of the most common types are:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on recognizing and changing negative patterns of thinking. It teaches how to identify and reframe distorted beliefs that can lead to stress or anxiety in social situations.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes mindfulness and acceptance of emotions. It seeks to help teens balance their environment and be able to cope with difficult situations.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT encourages individuals to accept their thoughts and feelings without judgment. It focuses on actionable steps that help to identify values and commit to behaviors that align with them.

Group and Family Counseling

Group and family counseling can involve a combination of individual, group, or family sessions. These forms of counseling are designed to identify and address issues within the family unit and work through any conflicts.

Peer Relationships in Adolescence

How to Know If You Should Seek Help

If your teen struggles to manage peer relationships in adolescence, it’s important to get them the help they need. A few signs that your teen might benefit from counseling include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by their relationships
  • Experiencing an increase in anxiety or depression
  • Having difficulty setting boundaries
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Feeling isolated from peers or family members
  • Avoiding certain relationships altogether
  • Expressing feelings of aggression or violence towards others

Reaching out for help can be a difficult step, but it is an important one. Treatment can help adolescents learn how to create positive connections with their peers.

Finding Specialized Adolescent Treatment at Horizon Services

It is important to look for someone who specializes in adolescent counseling and understands the unique needs of teens.

At Horizon Treatment Services, we offer specialized programs and support tailored to the unique needs of teenagers. Project Eden Youth Services provides support groups and peer counseling for youth and adolescents in Alameda County. 

Through these support groups, adolescents can learn how to work through their emotions in a healthy way while also navigating conflict resolution with their peers. Project Eden Youth Services also helps children by providing various counseling services. 

Reach Out Today

Please contact us for more information if you’d like to learn more about how we can help your teen form positive peer relationships in adolescence. We look forward to hearing from you!