When I was 13, I suddenly made a lot of friends. It happened when I joined the drama club. I immediately clicked with the core of kind and passionate teenagers, and we bonded over our love for theater and shared desire to create meaningful conversations on stage. We attended each others’ birthday parties, threw cast parties, and saw each other weekly at rehearsals.
But three years later I left the club, and things changed. The friendships began to fade. The glue that held our relationships together—drama—was gone, and without it our “close” friendships fizzled out.
In contrast, there’s Hannah. We’ve only met each other in person once, and she lives on the opposite side of the country, but I consider her one of my best friends. Our grandparents went to church together and set us up as email “pen pals” more than seven years ago (when we were 12).
Hannah is a fellow Jesus follower and encourages me with every email she sends. I can go back to some of our earliest correspondences and read through all her emails to find her prayers for me, her transparency, her love for truth, and her gracious accountability. Our friendship only gets stronger as time goes by.
What Makes a Good Friend?
The wisest man ever to live, King Solomon, thought friendship was a huge deal—especially for young people. He recognized the people we spend our time with have a powerful, tangible influence on us. In Proverbs, he focuses his counsel on the importance of choosing right friends, urging his son to spend time with people who are:
- just and kind (Prov. 1:10–19)
- pursuing righteousness (Prov. 12:26)
- wise (Prov. 13:20; 14:7)
- unconditionally loving (Prov. 17:17)
- close and committed (Prov. 18:24; 27:10)
- teachable (Prov. 9:9)
- levelheaded and self-controlled (Prov. 22:24)
- honest (Prov. 25:18)
- trustworthy (Prov. 25:19)
- edifying (Prov. 27:17)
A tall order indeed, one no human being can perfectly fill. But some are pursuing those good things. Such people were around in ancient Israel, and they’re around today. Hannah is living proof.
How Many Friends Should Teens Have?
Making godly friends isn’t always easy for Christian teenagers, though, especially when it comes to school. My friend Kyra is 16 and attends public school. “At my school,” she told me, “my sister and I are the only strong Christians, so our other friends are either non-Christian or claim to be Christian but don’t live that way.” Luke is 16 and goes to public school too. “As a Christian it can be hard because of the temptations and how people only notice you for the bad things you do,” he explained. “So that only makes it harder to say you are a Christian.” John is homeschooled, but he agreed: “I probably have fewer friends than I would if I weren’t a Christian.”
We’ve sacrificed a handful of deep relationships for an ocean of shallow ones.
I resonate with all of them. These days I don’t have many friends either, yet Solomon seemed to think that was okay. In a culture addicted to convenience and speed, there is such pressure to be constantly going and doing and multitasking that we’ve sacrificed a handful of deep relationships for an ocean of shallow ones. We don’t have the capacity to be close to all 2,000 of our Facebook friends. Solomon says to youth: Take the time to cultivate deep and godly friendships. Find the Hannahs out there who are going to build you up in Christ. Rather than idolizing popularity or status or convenience, slow down and ponder whom you’re spending time with.
What Friends Should Teens Avoid?
You can’t get past the first chapter of Proverbs before Solomon is giving friend advice. “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” (Prov. 1:10). Throughout the book he repeatedly warns his son to avoid “fools” (see Prov. 14:7, 16; 17:12; 23:9; 26:4–10; 29:9). These are the people who don’t walk in wisdom. They say whatever they’re thinking, think sin is a joke, mock obedience, tear others down, and pursue self-glory above all else. Parents, do your teens know anyone like that? Those aren’t the friends they need.
Now, this isn’t to say Christ-following teens won’t (or shouldn’t) be friends with non-Christians. It’s near impossible anyway, especially if they attend a public or private school or work in a secular environment. They’re around unbelievers every day. Yet rarely, Solomon suggests, will such relationships be deeply or permanently close. A Christian’s life purpose, future, struggles, and victories are so different from theirs, and we don’t have a bond over the most important things that matter. Don’t encourage your teens to push these friends away or avoid them, but help them realize that, for the sake of the gospel, they can never share the most important things.
My friend Isabelle is 18 and once told me something particularly insightful: “While it’s easy to have friends you can spend time with, it’s much harder to find those you can laugh with, cry with, pray with, and talk theology with. Certainly you still spend time with and care for unbelievers, but there’s nothing like the family of God.”
Your Teens Need Gospel Friendships
The gospel changes everything. Gospel friendships are God-given blessings (Prov. 18:24). They make young Christians wiser and stronger and more joyful. They’re hard to find, but they’re invaluable gifts.
So parents, how are you helping your teens find these friendships? What are you doing to model these kinds of friendships? And how are you teaching your teen to be this kind of friend?
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Jaquelle Crowe’s new book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway, 2017).