Girls' friendships can turn on a dime

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 27, 2012 06:00 AM

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My 11 year old daughter got into a fight with her best friend a few weeks ago. Her friend would be mean to her or jealous at times. I always told her to try and talk to her and work it out. It just got worse and now they don't talk at all. She asked me to try to talk to her friend's mom and I did and she didn't help the situation at all. She basically ignored me and then I told my daughter to just back off for a while. My daughter is going into middle school and she does have other friends but it seems like there's always so much fighting and mean talk . I have 2 other children and never went through anything this extreme. I just want her to have a good start to middle school. So I guess what I'm asking is, did I give her the right advice by telling her to back off? She was always so stressed with her friend and it just didn't seem like a healthy friendship.

From: Karen, Silver Creek, NY

Dear Karen,

Honestly, there is no right or wrong in these situations; you know your daughter best and you're the one who can see how the situation is affecting her. But for what it's worth, telling her to back off sounds like something I would have done in a similar situation; giving friendship issues time to resolve on their own is almost always good advice.

You didn't ask if it was a good idea to talk to the other mom, though, and I would not have done that, or recommended doing that. Talking to the mom of a child's friend about their child's behavior that seems to have hurt your child -- well, it's tricky stuff, even if -- or perhaps especially if -- the mom is someone you know independently of the girls' friendship. It's rare that that nets a positive outcome.

In general, it's always better to stay out of friendship spats unless there is something destructive going on. Not only do the issues often resolve on their own after a bit of time, but also we often say things that are meant to be supportive ("I never did like her very much any way!") and then the girls make up and your daughter either throws the statement back at you or feels disloyal or otherwise conflicted for being friends with someone she now know mom doesn't approve of. It's complicated stuff!

This has always been a tough stage of development for girls' friendships. There's even a phrase to describe it: the "Mean & Nasties." And in this day and age of social networking, the nastiness can spread on the web, which also has a name: cyber-bullying. I don't blame you one bit for being worried about middle school friendships. Here's some reading on that subject.


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3 comments so far...
  1. I strongly recommend Rosalind Wiseman's work on friendships, bullying, and adolescents generally. Her book "Queen Bees & Wannabes" was the basis for the movie "Mean Girls," it's very practical and research-based advice. And for dealing with parents who never left that middle-school mindset, there's "Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads," also very useful.

    Posted by serafina August 27, 12 02:02 PM
  1. "Her friend would be mean to her and jealous at times."

    You were expecting the other girl to be perfect? And your daughter has never once offended her friend or been less than wonderful?

    This doesn't sound like mean girls, bullying, other girl's mom being a bully enabler in denial or any of that. It sounds like 11 year olds being 11 year olds and getting on each other's nerves or maybe getting tired of one another. Sounds like the other mom has the right idea--moms shouldn't get involved over snits, only if some serious harm is being done. I assume if there were any you would have said so.

    And comparing this to your other two kids? Not a good idea. I'm sure your daughter does not like to be (even implicitly) labeled the "difficult" one or the "one having problems."

    Posted by di August 27, 12 11:20 PM
  1. When my daughter was in middle school (now in high school) and these things happened I would always suggest she take some time and evaluate the friendship. Ask herself, does this friend mean enough to me to give her room to work out whatever is bothering her and can I forgive her for how she made me feel while she did? If the answer was yes then breathe and give the relationship time and a second chance, if no well maybe they might have outgrown each other. This never meant to belittle the friendship I just reminded her that when she (and the other girl) were younger they "worked" better, but maybe now was time to let go of this "young" friendship and move onto ones that better met both their needs as young adults. Maybe they would reconnect sometime later when they better understood each other and themselves. A truly tough time for a child, I wish your daughter the best of luck.

    Posted by Eileen August 28, 12 08:25 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I strongly recommend Rosalind Wiseman's work on friendships, bullying, and adolescents generally. Her book "Queen Bees & Wannabes" was the basis for the movie "Mean Girls," it's very practical and research-based advice. And for dealing with parents who never left that middle-school mindset, there's "Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads," also very useful.

    Posted by serafina August 27, 12 02:02 PM
  1. "Her friend would be mean to her and jealous at times."

    You were expecting the other girl to be perfect? And your daughter has never once offended her friend or been less than wonderful?

    This doesn't sound like mean girls, bullying, other girl's mom being a bully enabler in denial or any of that. It sounds like 11 year olds being 11 year olds and getting on each other's nerves or maybe getting tired of one another. Sounds like the other mom has the right idea--moms shouldn't get involved over snits, only if some serious harm is being done. I assume if there were any you would have said so.

    And comparing this to your other two kids? Not a good idea. I'm sure your daughter does not like to be (even implicitly) labeled the "difficult" one or the "one having problems."

    Posted by di August 27, 12 11:20 PM
  1. When my daughter was in middle school (now in high school) and these things happened I would always suggest she take some time and evaluate the friendship. Ask herself, does this friend mean enough to me to give her room to work out whatever is bothering her and can I forgive her for how she made me feel while she did? If the answer was yes then breathe and give the relationship time and a second chance, if no well maybe they might have outgrown each other. This never meant to belittle the friendship I just reminded her that when she (and the other girl) were younger they "worked" better, but maybe now was time to let go of this "young" friendship and move onto ones that better met both their needs as young adults. Maybe they would reconnect sometime later when they better understood each other and themselves. A truly tough time for a child, I wish your daughter the best of luck.

    Posted by Eileen August 28, 12 08:25 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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