Friendships – and particularly teen girl friendships – are complicated and hard and oh so easy to get wrong.
And some of those issues are things we’re still dealing with as grown adults.
Flea is now in her third year of senior school. Generally, she’s a girl who gets along with everyone, and is pretty well liked.
When she moved schools last term, she returned to her previous school, meaning she knows most of the girls to some degree.
She’s not made really close friends yet, but Flea’s always been the sort of person who takes these things slowly. I’m happy that she has friends, and all the girls I’ve met seem to be decent, funny kids who I like talking to.
Still, this is definitely not primary school.
There’s always drama.
Someone’s not talking to so-and-so because they’re “speaking” (teen lingo for the texting that goes on before you actually go out with someone) to the boy they used to like.
Someone else is upset because they were best friends with X and X is now best friends with Y.
Basically, someone always feels offended. Someone always feels left out. Someone else is in a row. Oh, and at least one person seems unhappy for a non-specific reason.
It’s a minefield, I tell you!
And because these are teens, friendships are important.
And their sensitive little feelings are easily bruised by not being included in this outing or that club or conversation.
As a parent, it’s not easy to listen to. Part of me is all, “BUT MY CHILD IS AMAZING AND I DEMAND THAT YOU ALL LOVE HER, AND ARE NICE TO HER ALWAYS AND INCLUDE HER IN EVERYTHING.”
Then there’s the rational part of me that knows I’m no match for teen social dynamics and I should steer clear, and let Flea develop some coping skills. Besides which, I’m old and know nothing, while her friends are awesome and know everything. *cough*
That said, I do offer Flea some tips on handling friendships and here they are:
We’re All “That Girl” Sometimes
One of the things I regularly tell Flea is that at some point, everyone will be “that” girl.
You’re all hormonal and under incredible pressure at school. Everyone will eventually say or do something bitchy, or thoughtless or hurtful.
If you’ve had a bad day and hurt someone’s feelings, you need to own that. Apologise like a decent person, and move on.
Similarly, if someone else has had a bad day, try and see it as a bad day, not a bad person. Be gracious, and don’t make a big thing of it.
This also applies to grown-ups, by the way. I regularly tell people who are snappy with me that it’s okay, we’re all allowed a bad day once in a while. I think that’s a good lesson to learn as a teen.
Lots of women are ninja level experts at passive aggression. Or they’re the sort of people who are upset, but will withdraw into themselves and wait to be noticed, and cajoled out of it.
At 13, there’s an epidemic of Not Talking To.
One day everything’s fine, the next day Girl X is giving Girl Y the silent treatment. Or worse, the frosty treatment. You know where they’re technically talking to you, but everything they say has an undercurrent of I HATE YOU MORE THAN RAINY MONDAY MORNINGS.
In this scenario, my advice to Flea is always to be direct. “I’m so sorry if I’ve said or done something to upset you. Would you like to talk about it?”
What the other person chooses to do with that is up to them. It’s a situation I’ve experienced as an adult and my policy is that I will always apologise and offer to make amends. If they don’t accept that, it means one of two things.
First possibility: they just flat-out don’t like me. That’s fine – not everyone likes everyone.
Second possibility: they’re someone who plays games. I was married to someone who was amazing at letting me know I’d offended him in some way, but would never tell me what I’d done. He wouldn’t ever admit he was upset. It was all in my imagination. Then there would be days of frosty conversation until I was “forgiven”.
Yeah. I divorced him. And if other women play those games, I drop them like a hot potato (and then I obsess about it for a month or two, because I am human, not a robot).
Help a Girl Out
One of the things we talk about a lot is the notion of not being a bystander.
Flea will often observe that Girl A seems unhappy or Girl B has been dropped by her BFF and seems to be left out.
In that instance, I’m trying to encourage her to be the friend she’d like to have. Was it Ghandi who said, be the change you wish to see in the world?
So I encourage her to ask that girl if she’s okay. To invite her to lunch, or to sit with them at break. Even to start a random conversation asking their advice about this or that.
I remind Flea that not taking a side doesn’t mean being unkind to people who haven’t done anything to you. And let’s be honest, that’s a lesson some of us are still learning, especially on social media. Speaking of which…
Don’t Gossip on Social Media
The big difference I see between girls of Flea’s age now, and when I was 13 is social media.
Snapchat is their preferred platform, no doubt because it’s so ridiculously complicated to most people over 25.
But I remind Flea that anything you post online can be screenshot, screen recorded, photographed – and shared.
So whatever you do, don’t get sucked into talking about ANYONE on social media. Don’t post photos without other people’s permission. Don’t share anything potentially embarrassing (that’s my job). Just be sensible, basically.
Rather than saying, “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want Grandma to see” I tend to say, “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to be read out in class.”
Because that’s the more scary option to your average 13 year old.
Ultimately, all I can hope is that Flea comes through this phase with solid friendships, and an understanding of what it is to be a good friend. But if you have any tips for helping me through this turbulent time, I’d love to hear them!