Dr Shyamala Vatsa

Wonder Years

When life revolves around your friends - Dr Shyamala Vatsa

Friendships between young people are deeply emotional, and bonds of loyalty and trust are often strong. Cocooned in the warmth of friendship, you feel free to talk about things that matter to you instead of stewing all alone

For most people, especially youngsters, friends are the most important people in their lives. They spend time with friends in school, college or at the workplace, and stay in touch even after school or work hours. The energy, affection, support and fun that friends add to life make friendships meaningful.

If you are in high school, college or on the lowest steps of the job pyramid, you most likely spend a lot of time with other young people. You start understanding the sort of people you gel with, the sorts that put you off, and why. You learn to adjust to situations without hurting yourself or others in the process. Interacting comfortably with people at school or at work – or being socially well-adjusted – is necessary for mental wellbeing.

Friendships between young people are deeply emotional, and bonds of loyalty and trust are often strong. It’s one of the  most wonderful feelings in the world when you find a kindred spirit in a classmate you’ve recently met, and find yourself saying “Hey, me too!” when you start talking about things.

It is both exciting and reassuring to belong to a group and be accepted by kids whose opinions matter to you. If you are a teenager it makes you feel safe in the new world of adolescence, which is very different from the recently-exited familiar world of childhood. Cocooned in the warmth of friendship, you feel free to talk about things that matter to you instead of stewing all alone. 

In the beginning, say eighth grade, there are groups. Between the eighth grade and the twelfth, some kids may pair off and form exclusive relationships. In some schools there is intense peer pressure to do so; in others, peer pressure is more in the direction of preparing for college entrance exams, and a fair number of kids are disdainful of people who give in to ‘distractions’ like dating. Obviously, individual kids have different notions of what constitutes right and wrong. 

Exclusive relationships formed at this time may end when kids realize that they are not really what they thought each other to be. It is a stage of experimentation for many youngsters, though they are completely serious about the person they are in a relationship with, and would hate to have them termed experimental. But, the fact is that people are always changing, especially when they are young and being constantly exposed to new experiences. If I were to give another example, the eldest and youngest child in a family will describe their parents very differently, because parents change over the years through their experiences with raising each of their children!

The only bit of advice I can give is this: divide your day – the 16-18 hours of time you spend awake – like a pizza. Allot no more than two of the six slices to friends. You need the remainder for personal work, schoolwork, family, activities (like reading) that you enjoy alone, and other things that need to be done on a daily basis, eg walking your dog, or doing your share of chores at home. If this balance is maintained, you’ll have the best of all worlds, and no area of your life will be given short shrift.

People invest a lot of emotion – and trust – in their friends. Sometimes betrayals happen. People who meant the world to each other fall out. The anguish caused by a loss like this can turn your world upside down, because things that you know are important no longer mean anything to you. At that time, if you happen to be facing the final exams of twelfth grade, or semester exams in a professional college, you will definitely need help.

There’s a limit to how much you can impose on friends when they are preparing for exams too. Parents and siblings are your best bet, even if they are your worst critics. Confide in them if you can. Whatever happens, do not give in to despair. If no help can be got from your circle, reach out to your school counselor, or your doctor. Either of them should be able to help you calm down and get back on track, or refer you to a psychiatrist if necessary.

Dr Shyamala Vatsa is a Bangalore-based psychiatrist who has been practicing for over twenty years. If you have any comments or queries you would like to share, please write to her at columns@whiteswanfoundation.org