How to Help Your Teen Step Away from a Toxic Friendship

Google “Stepping Away From Toxic Friends,” you’ll get 39,500,000 results. We all know surrounding ourselves with the right people is the best way to protect our energy (and if you Google a quote on that, you’ll get 60,800,000 results).  

My daughter needed help with a toxic friendship

My middle school daughter recently asked for my advice on doing this successfully. How does she step away from a friend who treats her poorly and often ruins her day? Until our kids are out of school, they are in an environment they did not choose with few options for getting away from people with bad energy.  

They can’t choose their classes or their lunch periods. They’ve established groups of friends, fragile, easily disrupted ecosystems, and are unfriendly to the disruptor for middle school girls. And they can’t drive, so escaping a situation is not an option without the support of an Uber parent.

I’ve walked away from toxic relationships several times, including high school.  That particular decision resulted in my having no social life for at least a semester of my junior year.  And it resulted in me finding friends that I still have to this day. So I say from experience to my daughter, you can do this, but here’s my advice.

Middle schoolers
Parents can help their kids navigate toxic friendships. (MPH Photos/Shutterstock)

6 ways to help your teen disconnect from toxic friendships

1. Understand your “why”

Honestly, ask yourself why this person brings you down. Understand yourself to know why certain personalities don’t click with yours. This will help you with the resolution you will need over any bumps on the road of social awkwardness.  But more importantly, it will help you identify who your people are when you’re searching for new friends.

2. Prepare for the worst case scenario

What is the worst thing that could happen? Likely the answer is “I will have no friends”. So what does that look like? No one to eat lunch with? No one to talk to in class? No one to hang out with outside of school? Now ask yourself, how likely is that to really happen? Who are those people you talk to in school or on social media that you’re friendly with but don’t hang out with because you are in different circles? Could those be new people to spend time with? Are there other friends in your group who might feel the same way and support you?

3. Blame mom (or dad)

Say no to hanging out after school or sleepovers and blame mom. She can come up with enough excuses to put some needed space between the two of you outside of school to give you a break for those times in school that is out of your control.

4. Find new hobbies and activities the two of you don’t share

This will give you another excuse for not spending time with this person and introduce you to new people and potentially new friendships. And it truly understands your “why,” which will give you the courage to try something new.

5. Prepare answers to the questions you will get

It will be inevitable that your friends, including those you’re trying to distance from, will ask what’s up. Why aren’t you hanging out with them as much? Why are you hanging out with new people? Why are you so quiet? Be prepared with answers that don’t put them on the defensive.  

You’re not here to judge them for who they are, but you are here to spend time with people who make you your best self. Answers like “I just wanted to try something new” or “I’ve been really busy, but I’m really liking this new thing” will take longer to get to a place of reduced time with them, but it’s going to have less detrimental effects than “I don’t like you anymore and I don’t want to be your friend.” Blunt honesty has its place, but expect the consequences if used.

6. Treat yourself as your first best friend

You will be with yourself your entire life. Be kind to yourself. If you would be sticking up for a friend being treated the way you are, then stick up for yourself.  Who you choose to spend time with has a tremendous impact on who you become and how happy your world is. It is OK to want to protect that, no matter how challenging the middle school environment makes it to change.  

By providing a plan for how my daughter can change her situation, I hope I’ve reduced a little bit of the stress it causes her. Sometimes seeing a way out is the only thing needed to make the case feel better. She can see she’s not as stuck as she thinks she is. And if all else fails, high school is coming, and there will be even more new friends and new activities to grow into herself!

More Great Reading: 

Middle School Survival Guide for Parents from a Teacher and Mom of 4

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