Friendships First

Posted on November 09, 2016 by Amy Tolmie
Categories: Secondary, 16-19s,

Each month in Youthwork Magazine schoolsworkUK provide a page for work in schools, often with accompanying downloads.  Below you will find the December 2016 page, complete with three sections: Dream (helping us think strategically and with vision about our work in schools); Develop (explores what we might need to think about to develop ourselves and our skills to do this work); Do (ready to use ideas and resources for work in schools).

The December 2016 page was written by Jason Royce. 

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.” – Zig Ziglar


Last week I met two girls in a local school, I’ll call them Holly and Eleanor. They have been best of enemies since Junior School but now, after five years of nasty comments, rumours and YouTube videos, it all got too much and staff at the school intervened. Neither girl wanted to show ‘weakness’ so didn’t want to make the first move, but both shared a deep desire for peace between them.

What struck me as I sat talking with Holly and Eleanor is that both could tell me about the damage that had been done, both were very clear that there had been bullying on each side, and both had no clue how to make it right without the other apologising first. Do you recognise situations like this in your youth work?

I’m glad we have nationwide initiatives like Anti-Bullying Week (14-18 November 2016) to help raise awareness about bullying behaviour and ways we can all stand against it.  I want the young people I work with to know they don’t have to accept bullying and they shouldn’t stand by whilst others are bullied around them.

I also want important movements like this to be defined more by what they stand for than by what they stand against. Of course we must tell young people that bullying is not acceptable, but we should also spend as much time telling them what friendships they can aspire to be like.

In one sense, what Holly and Eleanor have been through is quite normal, young people fall out, it’s upsetting, and it often blows over. What they need from us are the tools to fix it. Can we as youth workers play a role in teaching them about friendship? Can we help them to mend broken relationships, watch them build strong and committed friendships, and recognise the life that relational health can bring? I think we can and I think we must.

Ditch the Label produce helpful annual reports on bullying and its impact. Check out their latest report here


As schools’ workers we tend to divide our time between taking assemblies, teaching RE lessons and running Christian Unions, which are good things to do. I’m doing plenty of that too.  But if that’s all we do, I wonder if we’re missing an opportunity to be part of the wider life of the school. Do we just tell students what Christians believe, or do we show them what Christians do and who Christians are? We are peacemakers and relationship builders. We believe that Jesus changes everything, including our relationships, so we should have a lot to say about friendship.

Consider these questions, either on your own or with others you work with:

·   How would you explain true friendship to one of the young people you work with?

·   How are your friendships different because you follow Jesus?

·   What would you say to Holly and Eleanor?

Take one of the following three contexts and think about how you might inspire and challenge young people to build strong friendships in these settings. What would you say and how would you demonstrate a meaningful aspect of friendship in each context?

·   A small group of 5 x Year 10 students

·   A class of 30 x Year 9 students

·   A Year 8 assembly

The idea of not just promoting Anti-Bullying, but of promoting what a positive community could look like, represents an opportunity to serve a school near you.

Think about the schools you already have contact with. Do they have a strategy to combat bullying, or to build healthy relationships in the school community? Why not see if you can help?

53% of young people have felt depressed because they experienced loneliness.  (Mental Health Foundation)


The aim of these resources are to introduce a conversation about friendship and get your group thinking about different types of friendship. They can be used in a small group or classroom setting and you can download the resources to accompany this idea using the links below.

FRIENDSHIP ON THE TABLE: Using the words inside the ‘friendship scramble’ envelopes, ask the group to separate the words into two separate piles – ones that show friendships and ones that don’t. 

Discuss why they chose as they did. In a recent session young people placed ‘disagreeing’ in the ‘not friendship’ column. It was a good chance for us to think together about why friends might disagree and how they can do it well. Of course, good friendships can tolerate some disagreement and may even be better for it.

TOTAL FRIENDSHIP GAME: The philosopher Aristotle said that there are 3 types of friendship:

1.    Friendships of utility

2.    Friendships of pleasure

3.    Friendships of the good

Explain each one, giving examples from your life and ones that are relevant to your group. Download the explanations here, and a description of the friendship examples given, here.

Aristotle also said that friendships keep communities together and that is true in school communities too. Challenge your group to make good friendships there, it is the community that they spend most of their time growing up in.

Next, think about different friendships and how they might fit into Aristotle’s ideas. Place the envelopes containing descriptions of each of the three types of friendship you’ve just explained onto the table and hand out the 8 pictures of different friendships. Ask the group to categorise each relationship using Aristotle’s ideas.

What is different about each type of friendship? How did they decide which category they belong to? Did they disagree about any of them? None are better than others, but we could say that some are deeper friendships e.g. Friendships of the good (level 3) are deeper than friendships of utility (level 1). What would it be like if all your friendships were level 1? What about if they were all level 3?

If appropriate to your setting, you could explore what Jesus said in Luke 6:32-36 to really raise the game!

Jason Royce is the Director of Souster Youth Trust, East Northamptonshire.