Some friendships are toxic. The on-again-off-again friendship—or “frenemy” relationship—is one of these. One day your child is happy and excited and having so much fun with this friend; the next day he or she comes home emotionally bleeding from the friend’s vicious attacks.
If you’ve witnessed this scenario, you’ve probably told your child, “Stay away! This is not a healthy friendship!” But somehow your child keeps going back.
Minor tiffs are common in children’s friendships and not a cause for concern. If the power balance seems about equal between the friends, minor conflicts can be an opportunity for learning. If kids want to keep their friends, they need to figure out how to compromise and how to try again after a disagreement.
If your child seems to have a lot of minor squabbles with friends, you may want to have a talk about ways to solve conflicts other than just insisting on their way—like asking questions to understand the other child’s perspective, taking turns, suggesting a third alternative, and sometimes—as an act of kindness—just giving in and doing what the friend wants.
Enter the Frenemy
But research by Patricia Hawley at the University of Kansas and her colleagues points to a more dangerous type of relationship—friendship involving bistrategic controllers. These children are both very kind and very aggressive, especially to their friends, and they cleverly wield both strategies to enhance their social dominance. Bistrategic controllers are skilled at understanding other people’s perspectives, but they use this knowledge to lie, argue, and manipulate in aggressive, self-promoting ways. Bistrategic children dole out enough kindness—to the right people at the right times—to keep them hooked, and enough meanness--to the right people at the right times—to maintain or enhance their social status and keep others off balance.
Hawley has observed this bistrategic pattern, in increasingly sophisticated forms, in children from preschool through adolescence. Kids of all ages seem to be drawn to these socially powerful but strategically unkind children. Bistrategic children are fun, exciting, and popular, but they’re also risky, because they can ruthlessly turn on their friends when it suits their interests.
What can you do if your child is involved with a bistrategic frenemy? Here are some possibilities:
Related posts: What Friends Teach Children
© Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD. Google+
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, is an author and clinical psychologist in Princeton, NJ (lic. # 35SI00425400). She frequently speaks at schools and conferences about parenting and children’s social and emotional development. www.EileenKennedyMoore.com
Check out Dr. Kennedy-Moore's books and videos:
-- NEW! Fun and fascinating video series on children’s feelings and friendships from The Great Courses®: Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids. || Topics include: Teaching Kids to Care; Developing Genuine Self-Esteem; How Kids Manage Anger; Playing Well With Others; Growing Up Social in the Digital Age. VIDEO preview. Available at: www.TheGreatCourses.com/Kids
-- Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child's True Potential || Chapters include: Tempering Perfectionism; Building Connection; Developing Motivation; Finding Joy. VIDEO preview.
-- The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends || Chapters include: The Shy Child; The Little Adult; The Short-Fused Child; The Different Drummer.
Growing Friendships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation. You’re welcome to link to this post, but please don’t reproduce it without written permission from the author.
For further reading: Hawley, P. H. & Geldhof, G. J. (2012). Preschoolers’ social dominance, moral cognition, and moral behavior: An evolutionary perspective. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 112, 18-35.
Hawley, P. H., Little, T. D., & Card, N. A. (2007). The allure of a mean friend: Relationship quality and processes of adolescents with prosocial skills. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31, 170-180.