When friends turn into frenemies and my teen daughter comes home crying, I become incensed because as a mother that which hurts my child hurts me. Thankfully, I know better than to act on impulse and I know from experience that we can’t believe the story our feelings would tell us about who’s to blame.
Teens, on the other hand, aren’t always eager or able to put a mature perspective on their relationships. Kids have strong ideas about fairness, loyalty, right and wrong. In their minds, they are always in the right. Everyone else is wrong. Entertaining any other possibility is extremely unappealing.
When we were young, if we had friend troubles we’d vent our frustrations with a friend.
To be fair, ‘Friend Code’ is complicated. The rules of engagement are often misunderstood and perpetually changing. In years past, if we had friend trouble, we’d phone our ‘bestie’ and vent our frustrations for hours if that’s what it took to feel vindicated.
These days, grievances land in a group chat and gain momentum like wildfire, spreading ill-will and negativity through neighboring factions of friends – not all of whom are compassionate to the cause and none of whom have a practical or peaceful solution.
I don’t often meddle in my children’s dramas. Most situations are better served with casual, strategically-delivered counsel. But when SOS signals arise in the form of sleepless nights and elevated stress, it’s time to step in. “Time-out,” I declared. “No more texting or posting. We’re going to discuss this the old fashioned way until we’re clear about what’s going on and what should be done. This is the part where you reclaim yourself. You can do this and I’m going to help you.”
Instantly, I detected a lightness in my daughter’s expression. When we’ve dug ourselves into a hole and find ourselves stuck in the mud, sometimes we need someone to pick us up by the back of the shirt and stand us back on our feet.
Letting mom take charge was a well-received respite for a girl who was ready to be done with the struggle. After spending some time on empathy, we got down to the business of defining friendships and the responsibilities associated with them. “We’re not making a wish list,” I warned. “This isn’t about what we want, it’s about dealing with what we’ve got.”
10 Tips for High School Friendships
- Don’t hold any one person responsible for being everything all the time. There are many flavors of friends. Friends for fun times, for confiding in, for challenging you and supporting you. Know which is which.
- People will show you who they are. Believe them. If a friend shares other people’s secrets with you, she’ll share your secrets too.
- Don’t waste your time trying to change people. It’s not fair and it’s not possible. Each person deserves to be respected for who they are without judgment. If you can’t do that for each other, step back and take inventory of why you’re in this relationship.
- There are no universal Rules of Friendship or Contracts of Loyalty – only expectations. Expectations and assumptions lead to disappointment. Allow flexibility in your relationship. Remember, you’re not the only one creating the friendship.
- Feeling hurt by others is an inside job. Go within to explore why you’re feeling badly instead of expecting someone else to make it better. Seek counsel when you need it, but be ready to do the work yourself.
- Be a friend to yourself. You are the most important relationship in your life. You’re the only one who will be with you forever. Treat yourself accordingly.
- Don’t grasp at fading friendships. Most relationships have an expiration date-few are meant to last a lifetime or even through 4 years of high school. Know when to let go, but never treat people as if they’re disposable.
- Beware of toxic relationships and be very clear about your boundaries. You are responsible for yourself. Your happiness lies in your recognition of what does and doesn’t serve you.
- Be willing to forgive. No one is perfect. We all need permission to mess up. Give others the grace that you would want to receive.
- Don’t wait for apologies that will never come. As long as you want to be avenged for your grievances, you will suffer. When you make a decision to move past something, regardless of the other person’s response, you will find peace.
Friendships are arguably the most coveted aspect of teen existence. When these relationships aren’t working, it can be overwhelming. We’re a social species. We need our people. Studies tell us that friendships help us to live longer or at least to fare better in life. Our relationships are worth the work we’re willing to put into them. They may change shape after adolescence, and navigating them may get easier as we become more sure of who we are, but they still require our attention, especially the relationship with ourselves.
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Deb Dunham is a native New England city girl who lives a pseudo country life while raising three children – two teens and a tween. She works as a Physical Therapist for the aged and maintains a closet writing career. She wrote a self-help book for tweens called “Tween You and Me: A Preteen Guide to Becoming Your Best Self.” You can find Deb’s writing about life and the lessons it teaches us at her blog Chaosandclarity.com