The Friendship Doctor

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Handling a teenage daughter's friendship dramas

High school is a narrow and, at times, difficult slice-of-life

QUESTION

Dear Dr. Levine,

My daughter is in high school has had problems keeping friends since elementary school. From what I have observed when her friends are at our home, she can be bossy and opinionated, but she is fun to be with. It seems like there is constant drama. This past summer she received an anonymous "hate letter" that has left her reeling and feeling as though she has no friends except for a new best friend.

It's hard to believe her side of the story every time as it can't always be everyone else's fault, but how do I help her? She is a beautiful girl, always looks put together and stylish, always has a boyfriend, and tends to be-friend girls who are much less attractive than she is. I feel as though she is seeking out these types of friendships because she is insecure and she feels better about herself if she is the most attractive in her group. But it always backfires because she doesn't have anything in common with them.

When I offer suggestions on how to handle things, she just tells me I don't understand (which is true as I don't recall girls being so cruel). She is a senior at an all-girl's high school, and I really want to help her have a good year. What can I do? I wish I could be invisible and see what's really going on. It's going to be a long year if things don't improve.

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Signed,
Sara

 

ANSWER

Dear Sara,

Female friendships tend to be filled with complexity and drama during childhood and the teen years because girls are growing, constantly changing, and learning about themselves. Subsequently, it's not uncommon for friendships to develop quickly and be short lived. For example, a friendship may be based upon sharing a class or activity together and when that class or activity ends, so does the friendship.

As you know, friendship is a two-way street and if your daughter is seeking out friends who are less attractive (physically and/or in other ways), who have little in common, and whom she can boss around, these girls are gravitating to her, too (perhaps to enhance their own status). Over time, your daughter will realize she has a great deal to offer as a person and will become more confident and, in turn, choose friends and with whom she feels more equal and with whom she has more in common. While your daughter seems skilled in making friends, she may need to learn to temper her tendency to be bossy and opinionated if she wants to keep them.

Receiving an anonymous "hate letter" has to be unsettling but it provides an opportunity for you both to talk about the topic of friendship. You can ask your daughter what she thinks makes a good friend and talk about it. This will accomplish two things: She will begin thinking about the kind of friends she wants to have and if she has been a good friend in the past. It may take awhile, but I expect she will start to evaluate her own behaviors with her friends and adjust her actions accordingly.

It sounds as if you and your daughter already talk to each other, which is wonderful and so important. Teens are struggling to become independent so they usually resent being lectured to by adults (even if you are providing well-intended advice.) To keep the lines of communication open, resist the temptation to tell her exactly what to do or whom she should befriend. Instead, listen to what she has to say, reflect her feelings back to her, and offer examples of situations that happened to you or someone you know ("I have a friend whose daughter is in high school and she got into a fight with a friend. Her daughter felt...."). Figuring out how to resolve the friendship problems she's having now on her own, with your support and guidance, is part of growing up.

If you talk to your own friends who have daughters the same age, I think you will find they have similar stories to tell. It sounds as if you really are connected to her daughter and want the best for her. Remind her (and yourself) that she will be out in the bigger world soon and high school is a narrow and, at times, difficult slice of life.

Hope this helps.

Best,
Irene

 

Prior posts on The Friendship Blog about Teen Friendships:

Painful teen friendship: What’s a mom to do? 

Can this teen friendship be saved? 

BFFs No More: Your problem or your child’s?

 

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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