Having older friends – Weird?
I am a fifteen-year-old female and I have a female friend who is forty-two. I can tell this person everything — I mean, stuff that I don't tell my mom — so I consider this person to be my second mother. Now my question is: is it normal to have friends like that? All my friends who are my age think it is weird for me to hang out with her and my mom gets jealous because she thinks that this person is kind of taking her spot as being my mom. If you can, please give me an answer to this question. Thanks.
It is a special thing to have connections with people you care about, trust, and can confide in. Many people have friends of all ages, both older and younger, and they find that those relationships add a lot of wisdom to their life. While there's nothing inherently wrong or illegal about having a friend that is older (such as your forty-two year old friend), many people are also wary of these relationships due to the power imbalance that often exists between people of such different ages. Your family's and friends' discomfort could be rooted in those concerns around your safety. That being said, digging a bit more into the relationship can help you find some clarity to make sure that you're enjoying the time you spend with others while staying safe.
To start, it may be helpful to ask yourself some questions about your current friendship, such as how did you meet and how do you spend your time together? Do you always feel safe when you're together? When you talk about things with your friend, does it make it harder or easier to talk with your mom or friends later? Do you not feel comfortable sharing experiences or talking with your other friends or you mom? Do you ever spend time with your friend in order to escape something that makes you uncomfortable at home or elsewhere — such as parents fighting, annoying siblings, pressure to do something you don't want to by friends your age, or someone else? Answering these questions may allow you to better understand your reasonings for being friends with this older woman and may help you better explain those reasonings to others.
It may also be beneficial to think about the reasons why your friends and mom may be hesitant to fully endorse your newfound friendship. They may have some safety concerns regarding this newfound friendship. For example, your mom may be worried about how much older they are than you, as there can be an unequal power dynamic between friends from different generations. Additionally, maturity levels between friends, depending on the age gap, can be vastly different, as the connections between the emotional sector of our brain and our ability to make decisions aren't fully developed until about the age of 25. This can lead teens to make decisions more based on their emotions at the time rather than through thinking through the potential consequences and rewards of different decisions. Also given the different stages of life, they may be wondering why an adult in their 40s would want to spend time with a teenager as friends.
When it comes to safety, one particular concern is grooming. This is a process by which the abuser "preps" the person they intend to harm, usually sexually. A large part of grooming is gaining the trust of a child or teenager so that they will spend more time with the perpetrator. It's common for people who are grooming others to taking on a friendship or caring role in their life so that the time spent together is welcomed by the potential victim. When that trust is gained, it's less likely that the abuser will be reported and it's even possible that the victim will continue to return to this person, allowing abuse to be easier and less likely to be caught. It's possible that your family and friends are concerned about grooming since you've developed such a close relationship with that person and there is a large age gap. The federal government and several states have statutes about grooming that make it a punishable offense by law. For more information about grooming, you may want to check out RAINN, which explains in more thorough detail the warning signs and where it may occur.
If you've deeply considered the safety of your relationship and still feel confident that you aren't at risk and you're comfortable, it may be worth explaining more about your relationship to your family and friends. It may also be helpful for them to get to know this friend better if they don't know them already. For example, maybe you can invite your mom or another friend to join you and your older friend for lunch one Saturday. By including either your mom or your friends, they may be able to gain a better understanding of why you enjoy hanging out with your older friend and potentially allow them to feel more comfortable with the idea.
In the end, only you can decide if this friendship is valuable or not. Learning through friendship can be a great life experience, but it's also key to be mindful of the power dynamics that may be at play. Understanding the intentions behind your friendship may help lead you to an answer that makes sense for your life.
Originally published Sep 01, 2000
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