Friends. Making them, and keeping them. Being a friend. Everybody needs somebody.

What is a friend?

The main definition, according to the Free Online Dictionary, is "A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts." The Oxford Dictionary expands on that : "a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations:".

We're not meant to be alone, and few people actually want to be - sometimes it's just they haven't found people they really want to be with rather than who just happened to be there. Friendship is not automatic but it is a necessary part of life for sharing the good stuff and supporting each other in the rough times. It doesn't depend on family obligations, or on being (and staying) "in love".

What do you get in a real friendship?

Wikipedia says "friendship is a relationship between two people who hold mutual affection for each other" and this is its value:

    • The tendency to desire what is best for the other
    • Sympathy and empathy
    • Honesty, even in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth
    • Mutual understanding and compassion; ability to go to each other for emotional support
    • Enjoyment of each other's company
    • Trust in one another
    • Positively strong, deep, close reciprocity, mutuality—equal give-and-take between the two parties
    • The ability to be oneself, express one's feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgement

How to make friends

Take an amusing look at the basic principles :


Social media has become an important part of how a lot of people relate to each other and communicate. The danger is that you may spend all your time with your online "friends" rather than face to face, and even lose the distinction between people you know who really are friends and people who add or "friend" you online. You might end up with 562 friends on Facebook but not one to hang out with at the weekend. It's a useful way to keep in touch with people you can't see, but it certainly shouldn't be the main way you relate to everyone. There are also a lot of hidden dangers with people pretending to be your friend or someone they are not, online and mobile safety tells you how to be careful when you are not dealing with a person who is "real".

Little kids are not embarrassed by asking other kids "Will you be my friend?" but by your age it's usually a bit more subtle! People tend to prefer the company of people like themselves, people who are more likely to understand where they are coming from and even like and want the same things. Isn't this why football supporters stick together and people follow particular bands, artists or actors? Having something in common straight away doesn't just help you feel part of something bigger and create a sense of identity but it gives you a head start on making real friends.

For people with any kind of difference, making friends may be harder. For instance someone with autism or aspergers.

How to keep your friends

Well, the simple answer is that you can't make them stay! The whole point about friends is that it is entirely voluntary. You can't choose your family but you do get to choose your friends. There is a saying, "If you want a friend, be a friend" - if you act towards people the way you'd like them to treat you, it's a pretty good invitation for them to want to make friends with you, and at least some of them will respond. It's a good principle for keeping them as well.

Wikihow how to be a friend says "Being a good friend is about being reliable, kind- hearted and thoughtful. In this way you'll develop and maintain a friendship that lasts for years. One good friend is priceless. Taking the time to nurture a friendship is worth every moment." and lists essential steps which highlight what a friendship actually needs to survive and thrive.

There are no rules except those you make between you, so try to be sure you know what the other person wants or needs from you too and see that both of you get enough out of your friendship. There are always going to be inequalities, people who give or take more than the other, and if your friendship is to survive you need to be comfortable with this, or say something! It is possible for friends to be completley different yet stay friends, because whatever Scooter Magruder says in his video, it's about equal value and not being exactly the same! It has to be worth it for both of you.

A word about losing friends

Sometimes friends drift away as priorities and even personalities alter. Sometimes you fall out over something specific. Maybe this is ok as you realise that this person was not a real friend after all, or the moment has passed and you have both moved on, but if you think it is worth the effort, you could try to fix things. Don't beg but don't be afraid to apologise either, or make an extra effort if you've been lazy about the friendship. Some friendships survive distance and some depend more on being around. If someone moves away, keep in touch - you will find out whether you have enough of a bond to still be friends in a different way.

More friends are always good but be careful not to push out people who are already there, and when boyfriends or girlfriends come and go, think about whether your usual mates get left out until you're on your own again - they're not bound to like that very much if you only seem to want them when you are single again!

It's sad but true that some young people will die in accidents, violently, or by suicide, all of which will come as a great shock to their friends as well as their family. If this happens to you, you need just as much help to deal with it. Read our section on what to do when someone close has died.  If you have a friend who is very ill and may die, you have more time to get your head round the idea of them dying but you won't feel any less sense of loss. Chances are, they will need your friendship even more during illness and you will need help to deal with all of it. At times you may feel more of a carer than a friend and you need to look after yourself as well. In all cases, the best way you can honour the memory of your friend is to be the person they loved and get on with your life as best you can, which doesn't mean forgetting them and feeling guilty if you have new or other friends. 

The value of friendship

The world of music has plenty to say about the value of friendship, check these out on Youtube :
I'll be there for you (theme tune from Friends series) by the Rembrandts
You've got a friend by James Taylor and Carole King
Thankyou for being a friend by Andrew Gold
Friends will be Friends by Queen
You're my mate by Right Said Fred : "You're my mate and I will stand by you and in the face of things which could hurt you you're my mate and I will stand by you"

Teenshealth gives examples of good friends in action.

Friends are good for mental health!

happy friendsGTRT is all about things which can make life rough for you and affect your mental health, and where to get help to deal with them. First base for that is a friend, someone you can trust to talk to about it, who will stick by you through whatever happens. They're all you have if you don't have any support at home. One of the worst things about having a rough time is the feeling of loneliness, that nobody knows or cares or wants to help you. Having good friends makes can help prevent this. They are good for self esteem too. if other people like you, you can't be worthless. You occupy a valued space in their lives too. They reinforce your own values and judgments and act of positive peer pressure. They are on your side against bullies and make it harder for you to be a target for bullying. They are there for the fun times. They give you a chance to give something back. Friendship is a two way benefit and should be a pleasure and a comfort.

Read more about all aspects of friends, including how to help them when they are having a rough time

Teenshealth "what it means to be a friend" and much more

Childline Friendships/Friends

The page was last updated on 17 June 2014 by andrea.bateman.

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