When Frenemies Attack! : How Should You Support Your Daughter?
Jul 24, 2017
Friendships between teenage girls are notoriously riddled with problems and drama. There tend to be rumours flying about, backstabbing and name calling, and the blame is typically passed around with such voracity, that it is hard to know where problems started and who, precisely, is involved. When this is coupled with close bonds and secret sharing, things can get complicated. And with the paradox of frenemies and a heady dose puberty-fuelled emotions, it is no wonder that your daughter’s friendships can leave you with a headache. This post aims to uncover the dynamics at play behind the scenes, some of which even the girls themselves may not be fully conscious of. We will suggest ways that you can support your daughter as and when some of these scenarios arise.
One of the toughest issues facing teenage girls when it comes to friendships, is the fact that it is rarely as simple as a ‘one on one’ interaction. While two girls may form a close bond, they tend to be a part of a larger group or tribe. Any issues that arise between the two of them, invariably spill over into the group as a whole and their misunderstanding can cause a kind of social war within the friendship group.
These groups typically have their own set of, largely unspoken rules, and are comprised of developing young women, not yet skilled in the best strategies to manage anger and jealousy. It is hardly surprising that grievances tend to come out in damaging explosions. Nobody is sure exactly how their actions within conflict with be judged, and the result is behaviour designed to please the majority of the group. This is when we see shockingly nasty outbursts, such as spiteful spilling of private secrets that had previously been shared. This can be used by the group to humiliate the girl that has been targeted as ‘in the wrong’.
So, if both girls were a part of the same friendship tribe, the one that is perceived to have caused the trouble may find herself ostracised completely. Social isolation can be very damaging to teenage girls, and something that parents should watch out for. If your daughter seems to have no good friend that she can confide in, not even one, then you should take action. We will address this below.
If two girls belonging to two different friendship groups have a fall-out, the resulting ripples can be felt far beyond the individuals involved. The group that one girl ‘belongs’ to will need to support their ‘sister’ and it may result in bullying of the one who caused the hurt. It could even lead to drama between two separate groups, a school tribal warfare.
Social isolation can have long lasting repercussions and can be very hard to rectify if left for too long. If you feel that your daughter has no single friend, we suggest reaching out to the teachers to look at seating arrangements and the structure of group work initially. They could help to connect your daughter with like minded girls in a class environment, providing an opportunity for bonds to form socially.
In addition to school, you could also look at sports teams or other hobbies that your daughter shows an interest in. Any opportunity for your daughter to meet like minded people should be encouraged until she starts to form bonds.
If your daughter has suddenly found a new popular friend, from a new-more popular group at school, you may notice that she shuns an older life-long pal, or even a whole group of friends. It may seem incredulous to you, but there is little you will be able to do to control this.
It can be especially tricky if the new popular-friend is what has been dubbed a ‘frenemy’. The term is used to describe a person that swings between being extremely kind and surprisingly mean. People and relationships are messy, nothing is black and white, but the world of teenage girl friendships can be downright turbulent. Kind, quiet girls can, of course, be nasty, and aggressive girls can also be very friendly at times. If your daughter finds herself in a friendship like this, it can be hard to know how to support her.
You will typically hear no complaints while the friendship experiences a period of calm, where the pair are close and everyone is happy. But the cycle of hurtful outbursts predictably comes around again and the dysfunctional side of the friendship is exposed once more, often with the very ties that bound the girls being used as ammunition.
Parents often advise their daughters to stay away from such a ‘friend’, reasoning with her to disassociate herself with someone that causes pain, but it is not as easy as it sounds. Unlike adult friendships, teenage girls can’t simply avoid meeting a frenemy. She can’t simply stop making plans to meet for coffee as in adult interactions. School, social activities and social media, all mean that she will be unable to cut ties completely. Instead, she will need to find a strategy to enable her to maintain a safe distance, as well as the maturity to resist reacting to inciting comments.
However, if you feel that the frenemy is behaving in a way that is particularly unhealthy, you should step in and encourage your daughter to suggest that expert help is sought. The things to look out for are damaging behaviours such as self-harming, eating disorders or drug abuse.
If you hear of bullying within your daughter’s friendship group or social landscape, we suggest that this is acted on quickly. Whether it is your daughter being bullied, or someone else, the situation is unhealthy and the school should be notified. If you suspect that your daughter is bullying, or even just teasing her friends, remind her that this is unacceptable and immature behaviour.
If you are unhappy with the way that the school is handling any problematic dynamics, seek the advice of an expert, who can help your daughter to navigate this difficult patch.
The Bottom Line
There is little point in trying to prevent friendships that you feel are less than helpful, unless as we have mentioned, there is evidence of behaviours that require expert attention. The social webs that teenage girls find themselves in are extremely complex and, thanks to the internet, they remain actively connected 24 hours a day.
Parents can still be supportive of their daughters by showing an understanding of the pressures that teenage girls experience in their daily interactions with friends, and by resisting the urge to belittle their problems.
Try to encourage her to respect herself enough to find friends that are kind and supportive, as well as teaching some strategies for managing anger. Keep in mind, that all teenage girls will make some mistakes, and no-one is simply terrible, even if they have hurt your daughter in the past.
Teenage friendships are a prime learning ground for communication and conflict resolution, and it is important that your daughter gets enough practice, to prepare her for the future that is waiting.