I would guess that a large percentage of adults, especially women, would admit to having at least one unhealthy friendship in their lives. Often times we hear this friend referred to as the High Maintenance Friend (HMF). This person requires more than you can give, takes up a lot of your time/energy, and stresses you out. After you spend time with this friend, you maybe feel less accomplished, bad about yourself, or downright exhausted. But, that doesn’t stop you. Even though you don’t answer the phone when this person calls or you cringe when you see a text from him/her, after a while, the guilt sets in and you feel obligated to reach out. Well, this experience is not unique to adults – tweens are the same. The difference is that children have much less control over their relationships and, in some cases, have to spend ALL day EVERY day enduring these unhealthy friendships at school.
Tweens often ‘put up’ with an unhealthy friendship for a long time before seeking help from an adult. They desperately hang on to the hope that one day they’ll revert back to the ‘Good Ol’ Days’ when their friendship was easy and fun! This is especially the case (with an even tighter grip) when their HMF is considered “popular”, making it that much harder to let go and accept that the friendship has changed.
If you have a feeling the tween in your life is dealing with an unhealthy friendship, you’re probably right. Along with that gut instinct, here are a few signs that a tween might be coping with an unhealthy friendship:
- They don’t want to go to school or seem less excited/interested than they used to.
- They are spending a lot of time in their room or by themselves.
- They seem less confident, maybe even saying negative things about themselves.
- They have been complaining of stomach aches or headaches.
- They’re not performing as well in school.
- They seem distracted.
- They don’t want to attend birthday parties, sleepovers, etc.
- Their friendship circles are getting smaller.
- They don’t talk about their friends.
- They start to ask strange questions, like: “Do you think I’m bossy?” or “Do you think I’m weird?“
- They make decisions that aren’t aligned with their core personality.
If a child is showing one or many of these signs, it’s time to step in. Children sometimes do not innately know strategies for making relationships healthy again and they need your help. Tune in and ask direct, specific questions. For example, “How are things going with Lisa? Is she a good friend to you?” Or, “I noticed you haven’t mentioned Jason lately. Are things still cool with you two?” If you’ve attended a GirlPower or GoodGuys workshop, ask them where this friendship would be on the Friend-o-meter and get them to explain. Let him/her know that you care and you’re there to help.
You also want to make sure that they understand you won’t do anything without their consent, as the #1 reason that tweens do not talk to adults about their friendships is because they are worried we will make the situation worse! They do not want their parents to call the other child’s parents. They do not want their Teacher or Coach to call a meeting with the other child. Instead, start chatting about your experiences as a tween so the child can relate to you on a personal-level and view you as someone who knows a thing or two about tweenhood.
Encourage them to spend time with friends who make them feel good and treat them with respect. Do what you can to offer love, support, and encouragement so that she/he will feel safe opening up to you. Put on your ‘Coach hat’ and give them tips and suggestions for how to manage this unhealthy friendship and be sure to refer to read I’m in an Unhealthy Friendship – Now What?? for LOTS of ideas!
This article was originally published on urstrong.com.
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About Dana Kerford
Dana Kerford is a teacher, friendship expert, author and the founder of URSTRONG, an internationally recognized social-emotional wellbeing program for children. With extensive research on relational aggression and conflict resolution, Dana developed a skills-based friendship curriculum for girls, GirlPower, in 2009 and launched the brother program, GoodGuys, in June 2014. In 2016, after attending a special invitation to the White House to participate in a conference on gender equality, she designed and launched URSTRONG’s co-educational curriculum. Dana and her team of Licensed Presenters have worked with over fifty thousand tweens, parents and educators across North America and Australia and have been featured in magazines, newspapers and on television programs. Dana's passion to empower children with the skills, language, and self-confidence to be better friends and develop healthier friendships is the heart and soul of URSTRONG.