Friend Problems
Filed Under (parenting tips, self-esteem, tweens)

“Mom, I NEED to talk to you.  I’m having friend problems.”

Oh-oh.  Here we go.  Entering into familiar tween territory.  My youngest daughter entered third grade this year with such a definitive shift in awareness, attitude, and emotion, that I’m considering nominating her for tween poster child.  It’s as if my daughter’s eyes have been dilated and suddenly she sees more than she can take in.  The world is different now.  It always had opinions of her, but now those opinions affect how she feels about herself.  Enter stage left: the daily friend crisis.

Mary (not her real name) said that her shoes are in this year.  And I wanted her shoes sort of even though I like mine.  And then she said she didn’t like my snack because….and she’s always butting in with my friends and I used to be the funny one and now she is and I don’t know what to do and then…” At the end of this high-pitched, high energy rant, my daughter collapses in a heap at my feet.  I listen.  I feel.  I sigh. 

This game of musical friends is painful.  What was once a wide and accepting group of peers before tweenhood, now turns its natural course, dividing into distinct  factions – AKA the clique.  On this path we greet the practice of girl hate.  Jealousy at its best. 

There seems to be an unspoken code of competition between girls and women that states that there can be only ONE cool girl, ONE funny girl, ONE smart girl, etc. in a group of people.  We are conditioned to believe that other girls stand in the way of our being great.  It goes something like this: we notice a girl who we quickly assess to be potentially more awesome than ourselves.  She is prettier or skinnier or flirtier.  We panic on the inside and immediately try to find something – anything – that could be negative.  We search desperately for reassurance that we excel.  It’s as if our very survival depends on it.  ‘Wait, there it is.  I see a freckle in the wrong place.  Whew.  I’m safe.’

In the frenzy of insecurity, we fail to consider that this cycle of jealousy has nothing at all to do with other girls.  It has only to do with how we feel about ourselves. She did this and she has that because she is herself.  We are ourselves.  No two alike, thank goodness.    We are each responsible for doing ‘us’ in the best way we can.  If I’m over there trying to imitate her, who is over here being me? 

Not liking ourselves is where hating other people begins.  Which is just another reason why self-esteem stands on the podium of importance.  Self-esteem is where our power resides.  Before we can help tweens heal their relationships with others, we need to help them bolster their relationship with themselves. 

Fostering Self-Esteem in Young People

  • Acknowledge feelings and listen without judging.
  • Avoid criticizing the child’s need to fit in.  Help her to see how her uniqueness contributes to a group.
  • Promote self-reliance and competence by celebrating achievements. Acknowledge hard work.
  • Be a positive role model by practicing positive language.  Avoid criticism of self and others.

We may never succeed in eliminating the phenomena of girl culture.  But we can certainly succeed in boosting self-confidence and self-referral.  In doing so, we cure much more than friend trouble.

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