What Makes Teens Really Happy?

Teen on shoulders of another teen

“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” — Bill Watterson

The longest study of human development revealed what makes people truly happy. It’s not getting straight As, it’s not the college you attend, it’s not how much money is in your bank account, and it’s not even getting a gold YouTube play button for reaching 1,000,000 subscribers.

The key to lifelong happiness? Friendships. Meaningful friendships with caring, trustworthy friends.

For teenagers, having at least one good friend is especially important to them at this stage of psychological development. Their brains are wired to care more about what peers think, and are looking outside of their families for meaningful connections and positive feedback. They need to know that they are indeed worthy and liked.

In our current culture, where independent adventures (think riding on the handlebars of your friend’s bike) have been replaced with scrolling through social media feeds, teens are struggling to make and maintain the types of connections they need to thrive. Less teens are gathering in person, a true detriment to their mental health. Parents must, therefore, make an extra effort to help their kids make and maintain good friendships.

What can parents do?

  1. Sit down with your teen and ask them if they are happy with the friends they have. Stay neutral and ask lots of questions. (Avoid giving advice right away.)
  2. If they express wanting new or better friends, ask them if they want some of your ideas.
    (Hopefully, they say yes! If they don’t, wait a few days and try again.)
  3. Then, help them identify two or more potential friends. Discuss how to start a conversation, or invite the potential friend over to do something they both like to do.
  4. Make room in your teen’s life for more face-to-face interactions with peers by setting limits on the number of hours they can use screens after school and especially on the weekends. (Screens create an easy escape from life and take up the time that your teen needs to spend with friends. A good rule: No more than 2 hours per day on non-schoolwork.)
  5. When teens are hanging out together, encourage them to be independent and engage in healthy risk-taking. Tell them to walk around the neighborhood or to the local pizza place. They’ll not only have fun, they will also build more confidence that they are capable of being out in the world without an adult.

Remember, relationships take time to grow naturally. As parents, we want the best for our kids and sometimes push too hard when we have a clear goal in mind. Give your teen space to go at their own pace while gently encouraging them to follow through with the plan you discussed. A good rule is: don’t ask for updates daily; keep it to a weekly check-in about how it’s going.

Here’s to Many Happy Teens!


Lauren Muriello headshot

Lauren Muriello, LPC

Lauren Muriello, LPC is a Mom, Licensed Psychotherapist, Educational Speaker, and the Founder of Well Being Therapy Center in NJ. Before she was a mom, she was also a co-director of Odyssey Teen Camp where she led staff trainings, sharing circles, and played badminton with Camp Director, Adam Simon. Lauren is also a member of our Board of Directors. Find more helpful parenting tips on her YouTube channel.
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A Non-Profit Overnight Summer Camp For Teens Ages 13-18
Located in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.