My daughter is at that awkward age where friendships just start to become precarious. By Third grade, you have already well established who your best friends are and the divisions and intersections and battles that ensue between girls can be as dangerous as walking a mine field of emotions ready to go off at the littlest trigger.
Recently, she had an issue with a friend that exhibited all the classic signs of “mean girl” In the making. What started as a sweet friendship in first grade, full of Disney Princess dresses and sparkles and giggles, devolved into active campaigns of character assassination and attempts to rally other friends against my daughter.
I sat down with my daughter, trying to pull up some Motherly pearl of Wisdom for resolving differences and being a friend, but the truth was, she had overheard me for the past two months in meltdown mode of epic proportions over a toxic friendship I was not negotiating with any grace or ease.
Enter the Age of Virtual Friendships and Sociopathic apathy. Angry, passive aggressive posts riddle our Facebook Newsfeed like bumper stickers of yore; have taken the place of any meaningful or direct communication. Why say what you mean directly anymore, when there is a colorful and caustic kitten to say it for you? In the age of Social Media, we are socially crippled, fumbling at our kids’ school functions with our phones like toddlers in separation anxiety. We don’t talk to other parents next to us, as if making eye contact without a social platform to hide behind is just too threatening. Heaven forbid your child has a tantrum, an outburst, or falls in view of other adults. This will not elicit the instantaneous Pavlovian response to step forward and offer help, but rather to take video of it and upload it to Youtube .
What values about Friendship do we offer to our children? We value kindness and compassion, but I don’t want to teach her to be an emotional doormat for others. We try to instill self worth, self value and self esteem, but I don’t want her to grow up to be a self entitled asshole either. Here are some basic tenets of friendship I hope we can build and instill in our daughter, as well as in ourselves before we become a planet of Mean Girls and Survivor “Race to the Bottom” species.
1. Choose friends that build you up, not tear you down. Who encourages you to be your best? Who lifts you up, stands by you, and shows up in times of trouble or times of Celebration? By the same token, BE that friend to others. Don’t expect to rummage through the friendship box and think that it will be eternally full for the taking. You have to give too.
2. Honor your commitments. Yes, there are always going to be plans that don’t work out, and life will go haywire, but if you make plans, do everything you can to keep them. Be firm with your commitments too. Don’t just look around for the next best thing before you use your friend as your “fall back plan”. No one likes to feel they are your rebound plan .
3. Hold your friends accountable. Unlike unwarranted criticism just for the sake of being critical, accountability is telling your friend something they are doing is hurtful to themselves or to you and others. It’s a hard conversation that most people avoid like a root canal, but if you can’t be honest with your friends, what really is the value of your relationship?
4. Be accountable yourself. You may have all the best Intentions in the world, but if your ‘good intentions’ cause harm to others, you need to check your own behavior and see what’s going on.
5. Laughter and Listening go a long way. Find friends you can laugh deep belly laughs with and share in simple pleasures.
6. Be there for your friends in real and meaningful ways. You need real hugs and real live conversations (or phone conversations) to let your friends know “I noticed you seem down today.” Or “I know you have been going through a really rough patch, but I notice all your effort. You are doing a great job!” Have them over even if your house isn’t clean enough to Pinterest about. They say we need 12 hugs a day for good health and well being. We are sorely lacking in meaningful touch.
7. Take Notice! If you notice online or anywhere else that someone is talking about their life as unworthy or even hinting in the direction of “giving Up”, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!!!! That is NOT the time to “like” their post or to send jokes. Call them up, or speak to them immediately and get them a number to call or help. Let them know you notice, you care, and that they will get through this. You are their friend and this is the HARD stuff that matters. Get professional help as well. It is a neutral territory for them and supports and encourages them to seek help. Follow up with them. (If You are one who was helped through a dark time, don’t forget to Pay It Forward and help others) See “Friendship Box” in tip #1.
8. Be genuine. As much as we all enjoy sunshine and rainbows, we need to allow other people into our mess, admitting we don’t have our shit together. This is where other people can really bond and grow with us. If you only present a false front, no one ever really gets to know the real you and are left with a very empty feeling about you. Unless you’re an asshole. Keep that shit to yourself and work on it. 😉
9. Do not keep company with users, caustic people, or those who continually cause drama. Throwing out a life line to these people will just drown you in their sorrows. Some people will grow from their own mistakes and misfortunes, while others are addicted to the cycle of negative attention getting.
10. Arguments can happen between friends. This does not mean that the friendship is over. If two people can come together in compromise and are willing to listen and learn from one another, their bond will be stronger for it. “Sorry” is not a four letter word, but “Won’t” is.
I hope my daughter will have many lifelong friendships. When all else seems bleak and barren, it is friendship and the love of one another that heals the most broken parts within us, and makes us happier and healthier people.