Friendship Expert Annie Fox answers your questions on friendship issues in middle school and beyond.
Q1: How do you maintain a friendship when there are big changes that get in the way. For example: studying/moving to uni or having a family.
Annie: Now, more than ever, it is easy to maintain connections with people. That said, there needs to be a willingness and a time commitment on the part of both parties, to put in the effort to stay in touch. A friendship, whether at close range or long distance, is a two-way street. It’s not enough for one friend to devote 100% or even 200% to the friendship if the other person doesn’t put in the effort. If you’ve got a child whose friend has experienced a “big change” it may be that this friendship will move into a new phase, for whatever reason. Please reassure your child that the “change” is not due to anything he or she did “wrong.” Explain that sometimes people get focused on other things require their attention more than this particular friendship. If your child is feeling sad because a friendship is slipping away, encourage him or her to express those feelings to their friend. No guarantee that anything will or can change, but there is benefit to have the opportunity to speak up and share feelings. Also, encourage your child to be on the look-out for new friendships. That will help ease any feelings of loss or abandonment. I hope this helps!
Q2: My 14 yr old son pushes other boys away when they try and be mates, as he is afraid of be called gay, he is struggling with his sexuality at the moment. Any coping strategies very welcome.
Annie: This is a challenging situation that I believe would be helped with the support of a counselor or therapist who specializes in working with teen boys and their parents. Your son would benefit from a safe environment in which he can talk openly and honestly about his sexuality and his concerns about how getting close to other boys as friends might be interpreted. I would also suggest that as his parent, you also have a session with a therapist. Talking with a trained professional about the most supportive approach to take with a young teen who is “struggling” with his sexuality will be beneficial to you and to your son.
Q3: My daughter (13) comes home ever day upset about the “drama” going on with her friends. It is one thing or another and she lets it affect her whole day. What can I do?
Annie: Many teens hide upsetting feelings from their parents. They may believe that they should be “old enough” to deal with things on their own. Or they may fear that telling parents will somehow spur parents to “take action” in ways that will make things “worse.” For this reason I’m glad to hear that your daughter is letting you in on what’s going on between her and her friends.
Girl friendships can, as you know, become very “dramatic” very quickly. And Friendship issues in middle school can be very complicated. Then, just as quickly, the flare-up subsides only to ignite again a few days later. It’s hard enough for the girls themselves to stay on top of who is upset with whom and who is not. It’s nearly impossible for a parent to stay clued in. However, you are far from powerless! You can help your daughter tremendously be allowing her to talk to you about her feelings. Don’t let her agitation get to you. Stay calm so you can be an excellent and compassionate listener. Empathize with her feelings of confusion, jealousy, and rejection. You might reassure her about what it means to be a real friend. Help her examine the behavior of her friends. If, for example, someone has said intentionally hurtful things do your daughter, you might reply, “I’m sure that hurt your feelings. It was rude and disrespectful. It’s hard to imagine that real friends would talk to each other that way. What do you think?” Then close your mouth and listen to what your daughter has to say. Ultimately we want to teach our girls to set boundaries of respectful behavior for the people they are close to. Toward that end, you can help tremendously by modeling for her that you a) treat people with respect and b) calmly and confidently stand up for yourself when necessary.
Q4: My daughter finds it difficult to make friends. She thinks she has nothing to offer and whatever I do she still seems so sad. She is 12.
Annie: Here’s an exercise that might help your daughter gain some confidence in the Friendship Department. Ask her to make a list of what she is looking for in the “ideal” friend. Have her fill in the blank in this statement “I want a friend who is__________.” (And keep filling in the blank until she runs out of ideas.) For example, she might say, “I want a friend who is kind. A good listener. Fun to be with. Supportive, etc. This will get her thinking about the character traits she values in people. After she has come up with a list of the traits she is looking for, ask her to think about what she has to offer in a friendship. “I am a good friend because I ________________.” This second part of the exercise might be a challenge if she truly believes she has “nothing to offer” but you can start the ball rolling by saying, “I think you’re a good friend because you really care about other people’s feelings.” And then encourage her to think of other traits she possesses that she feels good about. This exercise can be the beginning of your daughter’s realization that she already has what it takes to be a good friend.