Over the past 12 months I have been inundated with pleas from parents at the end of their tether as they try to support their teenage girls navigate through the complex minefield that is friendship.
The most reoccurring questions are…..
Why are girls so mean?
What’s with these yoyo friends? How can they be best friends one day, hate each other the next then be inseparable on day three?
What is a bad friend?
Why do they need to spend every waking hour online?
Whatever happened to the girl code, loyalty and having each other’s back?
Should I intervene or let her work through friendship challenges on her own?
All excellent questions so here is my take….
I have been working with teen girls for over 8 years as the Founder of Girls Out Loud and longer as a coach and therapist and even in this time I have seen and experienced major shifts in this area. I do not think it is a coincidence that in this time we have embraced smart technology and social media, ramped up the focus on external appearance, mainstreamed porn, normalised teen pregnancy and mental health issues and allowed girls to believe Reality TV is real! All of these developments have an effect on girl friendships as the race for popularity and peer pressure intensifies.
As rational adults it is so easy for us to dismiss all of the above and become frustrated with our children as they fail to distinguish between real and fake; good and bad friends; self-respect and self-destruction, but if we jump in and judge them or their friends we are not helping them and eventually they will stop talking to us about what is going on all together. And that’s a whole different blog!
JUST JUMP ON THE BUS!
My advice is to get on the bus with her, get alongside her, listen and acknowledge what she is saying, rather than judge and try to fix the situation. When you simply try to fix it your solutions are very rarely palatable as you are coming at this from an adult perspective with little understanding of what is playing out in her world on or offline. Yes it was different when we were kids, accept this, get over it and move on!
I have spent hours listening to girls explain the complexities of their friendship groups, define the different classes of friends – close, good, bad, normal, casual, on/off etc and the different levels of interaction ie where she is on the pecking order in a range of groups. These conversations can last hours and you really have to earn the right to make suggestions. You have to show you understand the complexities; the fallout from setting boundaries and standing up for yourself and then, and only then, can you carefully move into the area of suggesting coping strategies and exit plans.
It is so tempting to tell her to dump her bad friends or tell the Queen Bee to do one, but without understanding the fallout from this we are only seeing 10% of the picture.
The bottom line – listen, slow down the pace and give her space to share and if you are in any doubt of the impact of Reality TV take a sneaky peak at Love Island or Jordie Shore and just observe the competitiveness of the girlfriend relationships, the pressure to conform to a certain look and behaviour and the absolute lack of any kind of girl code or sisterhood!
In the words of my life guru Oprah all anyone needs is to know ‘I see you, I hear you and what you say matters.’ Keep this in the forefront of your mind when engaging with your daughter and I promise the interaction will be all the more productive.
Jane Kenyon, Founder and CEO of Girls Out Loud