Spotting Friend-Posers: How to teach Tween girls to identify bad friendships

By Dolores Smyth

In the not-so-distant past, I used to take my two daughters out to the local diner to “catch up” over burgers (them) and a turkey club (me). I would marvel at the excited flurry of details my girls would tell me about their everyday activities—from the coolest game the neighbourhood kids taught them to play to how they were practically bursting with pride over the latest masterpiece they drew.

Those days, unfortunately, are gone.

Now when my tween girls plop themselves onto the diner booth for a “girls lunch” with Mom, they lament over what this female friend said or didn’t say, and what that female friend did or didn’t do.

Some of these accounts are empowering, celebrating the strong bonds of female friendship. Increasingly, however, these accounts are demoralizing, causing my patient and inclusive tweens much heartache. Not every parent is receptive to hearing their child is being a bad friend, and constantly telling my girls to look past the offending friend’s behaviour doesn’t work. In fact, a running theme I’ve noticed is that when one of my daughters maintains a friendship with a “friend” caught gossiping about her, the “friend” returns to gossiping as soon as the dust settles. An equally rattling trend I’ve noticed is that when my older daughter continues friendships with kids who persuade her to belittle her younger sister, these “friends” persist with their bullying suggestions even after my older daughter has asked them to stop.

While I explain to my tweens the importance of forgiveness, the Mama Bear in me also clarifies that forgiving people does not require continuing to tolerate their offensive behaviour. Instead, I encourage my kids to cut ties with anybody who habitually insults them or nudges them toward wrongdoing. Cutting ties may entail distancing themselves from the bad friend slowly or halting all communication immediately, depending on the circumstances.

In helping my tweens discern which friendships to nourish and which to let fade, I have them focus on the totality of a person’s behaviour. That makes it easier to spot a real friend from a friend-poser.

Here are four types of friend-posers I discuss with my tweens and the reasons why it’s best to let these types of friendships go.

Friend-Poser #1

The Sunshine Stealer. This friend-poser is prone to jealousy and is unable to show true gladness for anyone else’s success or good fortune. This person may point out flaws in your sunshine-moment or discourage you from taking positive steps in an attempt to keep you from reaching a goal.

As long as this false friend stays mired in her intense feelings of jealousy, she can’t wish you well in any aspect of your life. Like a heavy blanket blocking out the light, cast off this Sunshine Stealer and bask in the warmth of your sunshine-moment again.

Friend-Poser #2

Halley’s Comet. This “friend” rarely contacts you and, when she does, it’s only because she needs something. This person may want advice, help with homework, or simply to hang out with you because no one else is available.

Instead of going along for the ride the next time this phony friend makes her appearance, wave goodbye to Halley’s Comet and let her continue on her journey elsewhere.

Friend-Poser #3

The Double-Crosser. The Double-Crosser pals around with you when it’s just the two of you and then ignores you in the presence of others. A passive-aggressive person, this friend-poser insists that the jabs she takes at you are “jokes,” and proclaims her innocence when you find out that she’s been excluding you or badmouthing you.

The Double-Crosser is tough to spot because of how adept this person is at manipulating others. As soon as you start to pull away, this phony friend will shower you with attention, only to betray you again once you’ve dropped your guard.

While the Double-Crosser figures out how to be more sincere, step aside and let this person two-step away from you.

Friend-Poser #4

The Raging Bull. This is the person who, when angry, hurls her aggression at you even if you did nothing to cause her fury. The Raging Bull’s quick-to-anger temperament may also flare up at those around you, such as other friends or a younger sibling. This friend-poser may later apologize once she’s calmed down. However, her apologies tend to include the accountability-shirking excuse that, hey, when she’s mad, she gets to act mad, so deal with it.

Verbal aggression can quickly lead to physical intimidation or worse, making this type of friendship a dangerous one. While the Raging Bull figures out how to control her anger, swing the cape aside and let this friend-poser charge right past you.

Spotting a friend-poser can be difficult and ending a friendship can be painful. However, teaching our kids how to surround themselves with kind, supportive friends (and how to be kind, supportive friends themselves!) is a worthy skill. This type of discernment will reap lifelong rewards as our tween girls march toward teenagerhood and beyond, and continue to navigate the joys and complexities of female friendships.

Dolores Smyth is a freelance writer who draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. A perfect day for her includes running, reading, and spending time with her husband and three kids. Oh, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Connect with her @LolaWordSmyth.