Being a Friend


This Trojan question supports policy makers and practitioners to consider the importance of friendship to young people, and asks whether through better understanding we might be more able to promote better behaviour and peer support.

We would suggest that the questions we pose here could be usefully put to all young people for consideration; and that responses will help us professionals, parents or carers to help build friendship as a resource for learning, better behaviour and inclusion.

Trojan participants have a very positive view on friendship and the role it plays in supporting them day to day, including in school. It is acknowledged that making new friends can be difficult, particularly if you are from a different area or have a different background. For some young people moving between places and carers means making new friends difficult. Loyalty, trust and being yourself were seen as key characteristics of a good friend with being kind and showing respect important in sustaining friendship.

Whilst there is recognition that some people need space when they are unhappy or angry, most young people expect their friends to take them in check if they are being out of order, with a recognition that calming them down is very important in dealing with someone 'kicking off' at school. Young people recognise that friends know them well and they are sometimes best placed to know the best course of action to support an individual.

The contributions about friendship show us that children and young people have understandings and aspirations for their friendships. The responses to our theme highlight that if we engage children and young people in consideration of the importance of friendship, and encourage openness and understanding, this may well support us as adults – as carers and as professionals – to examine further how we might enable young people to build their own effective peer support and networks.

Artwork from the Projects which took part in this question can be accessed from these links:

We present an overall picture of what young people told us in seven sections which are:

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Research commissioned by the Scottish Executive on discipline and behaviour in schools shows that pupils can be harsh in their criticism of other pupils “bad” behaviour; they often feel irked by the time that teachers and other staff spend on “difficult” pupils.

There is also interest in work which addresses bullying about how we can promote friendship and positive peer connections and peer support as a way of building our preventative and proactive approaches to bullying.

Many of the projects involved with Trojan work with children and young people who are disaffected or disengaged from school. Some may behave in ways which schools perceive as challenging. Some may lack confidence or belief in what school can do for them. Some of the young people who are Trojan contributors may be isolated from their peers. With these experiences in mind Trojan participants bring perspectives which can help with considerations – both in terms of policy and practice – regarding the promotion of better behaviour and the building of peer support and networks.

This question aimed to find out more about what the young people involved in the Trojan Project feel about being a friend, including at times when behaviour is perceived as a problem. We asked them to think about:

A total of 36 young people across 6 agencies sent in responses to this question, 19 were male and 13 were female. The age range was between 9 and 15 and the distribution is as per the chart below:


What makes a good friend?

The young people identify a number of key characteristics that make a good friend. A good friend is someone who is trustworthy, caring and funny, someone who sticks up for you, shares things and helps you when you are in trouble. You can rely on them, they keep confidences. They are there to play with you and cheer you up when you are feeling down.

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What’s hard about making and keeping friends?

There are lots of hard things about making friends; making the first move if you are shy or new somewhere can be very scary. Knowing what to say and finding things in common. Being cheerful if you are not feeling cheerful can also be hard.

Young people have fears about being let down. If they have been let down before they don’t feel confident about trying again.

Being different means making friends can be difficult.

Keeping friends is seen by most respondents as hard because people fall out and have arguments. Some young people think it is easy to keep friends, but you have to be there for them 24/7.

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What advice would you give to someone about how to make friends?

Being yourself and being approachable are the most common suggestions made. Some young people are more confident and suggest more proactive approaches like sitting next to people in class and asking about their interests. The suggestion is that making friends means seeing yourself as a friend to them.

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What do you expect friends to do if you are unhappy and having a bad day?

Being listened to, cheered up and supported are they key things that young people want from friends if they are unhappy or having a bad day. But they also recognise that sometimes other young people use circumstances to stir up a bit of trouble too. Good friends know when to talk, when to listen and when to wait for the right moment to offer support.

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Sometimes a friend can have a bad day at school – they behave in ways that get them into bother. What do you do if your friend 'kicks off' at school?

The most frequent response in this situation was to try to calm a friend down and to get to the bottom of the problem. However young people also recognise that it’s sometime best to stand back and wait for the right moment to get involved. Young people want to stick up for friends which can mean getting involved and getting into bother themselves.

Across contributions young people recognise that nothing much can be achieved in terms of resolving issues in the heat of the moment, but the best way is to calm people down is to take them aside, ask what is wrong and listen.

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Maybe you sometimes have a bad day at school. What should your friends do if you 'kick off' at school?

When it comes to how they would like to be supported if they are the one having the bad day, most young people want a bit of space,  to be calmed down and supported to work out what is wrong. Others wanted space to have time to cool off. There is also some recognition that whilst in the middle of a drama there can be a desire to get others involved; but there is a sense that at the end of the day this isn’t a good idea.

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