Because I'm the Mom

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10 Signs a Child Is in a Toxic Friendship & How You Can Help

Tips on frenemies

One of the many benefits of being a parent or grandparent is that you can learn – or re-learn – all kinds of new skills you think are only for the kids but they end up helping you, too.

For example, the category of bullying, bullies, mean girls, and toxic friends is one of the hottest topics for parents, grandparents, and mental health professionals who work with kids and educators.

There is a lot of advice out there. I like the simplicity and thoughtfulness of advice from expert Mary Jo Rapini and thought I'd share it. As I read through it I saw so many similarities in how child bullies behave with how adult bullies behave. If you read these signs and advice through the lens of an adult in at work, in the PTA, in our own families and friendships, you see clearly what happens to some of these children when they group up. They become adult bullies.

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Getting Our Kids and Ourselves out of Abusive Friendships

So, in the name of prevention, I offer these tips from Mary Jo Rapini, a licensed psychotherapist, who writes regularly about these issues. My hope is that by identifying these patterns and discussing the solutions with our children, we can also do the same for ourselves. To read more, check out her website.

Your Child's Toxic Friendships

by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC

"10 Tips your child or grandchild may be involved with a toxic friend:

1.     If your child becomes totally obsessed with pleasing this friend, there is a good chance the power balance has shifted and your child is being used.

2.     If your child's friend treats their parent or any adult with disdain, pay attention. This is not a good sign as they have issues with authority.

3.     Your child's new friend doesn't abide by your child's rules. For example, if you tell your child no communicating after 9 p.m. and this friend continually calls or texts, saying rules are stupid or for little kids, this is not a friendship you want to nurture.

4.     Your child is teased or belittled in any way by this friend.

5.     The friend tries to get your child to act rude or disobedient at school.

6.     The friend wants to keep secrets all the time.

7.     Your child's friend is rude in public. All kids make mistakes, but if you notice this kid is a brat in public, can you imagine what is going on in their home?

8.     Your child's friend picks on "lesser people" or has a bully attitude.

9.     Your child's new friend has angry outbursts.

10.  Your child begins acting out, swearing, and acting belligerent or indignant (unless someone is modeling that behavior in your home).

5 Tips on how to help your children break free of toxic or abusive friendships:

  • Begin by having the toxic friend over for dinner (it is even better if the parents can come). Usually you don't need to do more; the whole situation becomes very clear to your child.
  • Talk with your child about their toxic friend's behavior only. Try not to attack the friend, but say what you see and why it is unappealing. Be honest and firm with your observations.
  • Structure your child's life as much as possible. Your child will need an excuse at times and if they are able to say, "My parents will ground me for life or take my car away if I do that," it helps them save face.
  • Set limits. Keep your child's curfew and follow through with consequences. If your child begins suffering for their toxic friend, they may wake up sooner rather than later, asking why they like this person who gets them into trouble.
  • Many times your child will choose to hang out with someone you don't like as a form of rebellion. If depression, anger, or acting out become an issue, it is wise to seek counseling for your child as well as yourself. Toxic friends have the power to turn a once harmonious family into a chaotic situation very quickly."

In future posts I will share more expert advice and excellent resources on how to manage difficult friendships.

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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