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Help! My teenage daughter is losing her friends

Psychologist urges mom not to worry too much about her teenage daughter — teen friendships change over time.


Dear Irene:

My 16-year-old daughter is very sweet but sometimes has low self-esteem. Her friendship group seems to be changing as she is being left out by the girls she has been friends with for a very long time. She keeps saying, “I’ve lost so many friends.” Some of it is that these girls seem to want to drink and my daughter is uncomfortable with that.

What bothers me most is she keeps asking them to do things and they keep saying no or making excuses. I wish she would see this just sets her up for disappointments. How can I help her and support her through this? She is already seeing an adolescent therapist.



Dear Katie,

I asked my colleague, Barbara Greenberg, PhD, an adolescent psychologist to respond to your question. Barbara is the author of Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Bilingual and blogs at Talking Teenage.

This is Barbara’s sage advice:

You certainly sound like a thoughtful and loving mother. Your daughter will benefit greatly in life from having a mom who both supports her and is attuned to her feelings. What your daughter is going through is not at all unusual for this age group. It is nonetheless really painful to watch your child suffer. 

Since your daughter is opening up to you about what is going on in her life you may want to suggest to her that these girls want to hang around with peers who drink. They may experience her as disapproving of their behavior and that may be why they are avoiding her. If that is the case-well then you should pat yourself on the back for having raised a young woman who is able to withstand peer pressure. This is not an easy task particularly for a teen with low self-esteem. Is it possible that your daughter’s self-esteem is better than you think? A teen with very low self-esteem would likely do anything to maintain friendships including engaging in behavior that she is not comfortable with. 

Perhaps you can suggest to your daughter that she join some activities where she might meet some new and like-minded friends. I would definitely avoid devaluing the “drinkers.” Teens change over time and these girls might turn into lovely young women at some point in time. You can say exactly that to your daughter. First, validate that it stinks to be excluded but then explain to her that these girls, like your daughter, may make some wonderful changes over time. So, while you don’t want her to chase after them to no avail at this point — she also doesn’t need to ignore or tune them out completely. 

What she really needs to do is to make some new friends. And, teach her to ask herself the question “Do I feel good about myself when I’m around this person?” as a way of taking the temperature of a friendship.

Good luck and keep loving her.


Other posts on The Friendship Blog about teen friendships:

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Category: Teen friendships

Comments (19)

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  1. Jodie says:

    Hi, I am going through the same problem with my daughter, not only at school but also the dance studio she goes to…she thinks & has said to me it’s her, she must have a rubbish personality as none of them really want her around. I have thought of how to fix this so many times, like speaking to the girls(esp at the dance studio) or to their mothers, but then don’t cause I think well they are teens they won’t give a crap, & I don’t want them to like my girl just cause I force them too. This is what my daughter shared & my friend messaged me about with concern…I’m the friend that always has to walk behind the group when the path isn’t big enough. I’m that friend that always get cut off in the conversation. I’m the friend that always get left behind when I asked for them to wait for me. I’m the friend that doesn’t get asked to hangout a lot. I’m the friend that if I want to go to the mall or some place I have to be the one to invite people to make sure I get included. I’ll always be that friend. This hits me as hard as F*k
    I read this & cry as she’s a lovely girl with a beautiful loving soul, but why does she get treated this way?? How do I help her as I don’t want her to end up being a destroyed, stuffed up adult with little esteem & ruined career as she wants to be a dancer. I know I could change her school, but her dance school is something she had gone to since she was 6, & she loves the teacher & she is studying to not only dance but be a teacher of dance. Why do ppl have to be so mean?

    • Busymom says:

      Hi I have a 16 year old daughter who since elementary school everyone who she has been close to she no longer speaks to them. Now in grade 11 she made a great friend last year and then a few weeks before school started she learned that friend was moving schools. The friend wanted the change but the only thing that would keep her at the school was my daughter!! She has been very upset and if she is busy she is fine but I am noticing she is short tempered and easily agitated. She does not understand why all the friends she becomes close with move away or change schools. She is very involved in school and her community and has a part time job and has her G1 licence. I have told her once she is fully licenced she can drive to see her friend and that she just has to keep the line of communication open. It is painful to see how much she is hurting especially her sister is the total opposite where she has a huge group of friends and there has been no changes at all.

      • Amy F says:

        Changing friends from elementary to high school isn’t unusual. Throughout your daughter’s life, she will have friends who relocate, and sometimes she will be the one so move. That’s just part of growing up. She can help the disappointment by nurturing several friendships at the same time, rather than putting all her energy into one person. Even if she has a best friend, having other friends and/or close acquaintances helps make her a more well rounded person and takes pressure off her best friend relationship. Distance can strengthen relationships too by making time spent together even more precious.

  2. Mary Smith says:

    My 15 year old son is going through the same thing. He started 9th grade happy and with a nice group of friends from middle school. At first they all did things together. Slowly things started changing and they wouldn’t let him know plans. Finally last weekend one of the boys invited the whole group over but told my son he couldn’t come because his mother said he had invited too many people. This was obviously not true as the boys always hang out all together.
    Now my son is definitely being left out of everything. Every weekend he asks the boys what’s going on and either they ignore him or say they don’t know. He know they are getting together without him. He doesn’t seem devastated but I’m sure he’s upset. I’ve told him to try and make other plans instead of chasing this group around every weekend. He tells me he’s fine and seems ok but just stays home alone which is breaking my heart. I don’t want him chasing this group of boys to hopefully be included in a plan. I think that is worse than being alone. I just feel so badly for him that they are leaving him out. He says that they all eat lunch together and that things are fine at school. What do I do?

    • Amy F says:

      Hi Mary,
      I can only imagine how much it hurts watching your son feel left out. I think you’re right about being concerned he’s chasing friends who haven’t treated him like a friend. I question whether he really eats lunch with those boys. You said that every weekend he’s turned down for inclusion in activities. Does he offer this information or is this in response to your questions? When kids are isolated or bullied, they’re often ashamed and believe that they caused the situation. If this is the case, he may very well be trying to “safe face” with you and/or protect you from his pain, especially if he knows how much you hurt for him. Some kids are more sensitive to people’s feelings than others. Is this the case with him? Next time you speak with him about his friendships, let him know that you can handle anything he tells you, you won’t judge him, and if he wants, you can help him find a solution. Then do more listening than talking and hold off making suggestions. If he’s already tried your suggestions and they haven’t worked out, he may feel like a failure or that he’s disappointed you.
      Casually ask your son what he’d do if he had a little brother who was being left out of plans. What should the little bro do? How would he want the little bro to respond? Try to avoid open ended questions instead of yes/no ones, because they encourage dialogue. Hopefully he wouldn’t want a younger sibling to have friends who treat him poorly and that he’d suggest looking elsewhere. If your son thinks a brother should keep trying, ask why and at what point should his bro stop looking? What you’re trying to figure out is why he is accepting this behavior and help him recognize, through his own advice to a younger sibling, that he deserves friends who treat him like an actual friend. Don’t push him in that direction, because you want to find out if he thinks being isolated is ok, and if so why? If it become apparent that his decisions about these “friends” comes from low self-esteem instead of not knowing how to handle the situation, you might want to consider professional counseling, because that’s often a problem that takes more than reassurance from a parent to overcome.
      If your son truly isn’t upset staying home, recognize that some people socialize more comfortably one on one, and others enjoy being part of a group. Individual personality usually fuels preferences, unless he’s shy and uncomfortable with more than one person at a time and he wants to learn how to be better with groups.
      I can think of many reasons your son not care, or even be glad to stay home on weekends. Maybe the guys are drinking or smoking weed. Maybe they party. Maybe he’s not interested in their activities. Maybe he doesn’t like the guys all that much. These things wouldn’t be cause for concern. If his reasons are more internal, like depression or anxiety, low self esteem, extreme shyness, that would be more concerning.
      One of the main symptoms of depression for teens is withdrawal from friends and family. If he shows other signs of depression make an appointment to see his doctor. These signs can be–changes in sleeping or eating habits, sadness, anger, lack of energy, talking about death, feeling worthless or extreme irritability (most teens are irritable to some extent). He might balk at the idea of seeing his doctor, so explain that depression is a medical condition. Just like you would take him to the doctor if he broke a leg, he needs to be checked out. Tell the doctor your concerns, then allow her to examine him without you in the room because he might be more open. Most of the boys I’ve worked with are less open conversationally than girls and they usually talk more alone than with their mothers present.
      I hope the situation improves, but I’m doubtful these boys are actually friends he has or should want. Good luck.

  3. alex says:

    Its nice to see that I am not alone. My daughter is going through this same thing and it is beyond heartbreaking! She grew up with one set of friends. They did everything together. as high school approached, she started getting left out of things. She would see pictures on social networking sites of the girls together at functions she knew nothing about. After many months of urging her to branch out, she finally did and made a new set of friends. Everything was great… for a while. Now, the same thing is happening again. she will call her friends and ask if anything is going on that evening and they will say “we will let you know”. She hears from no one. the next day? countless pictures of all of them at a party. She keeps telling me that its because she doesnt drink. Its amazing to me that being a GREAT friend, kind, caring, loving, and considerate is not enough.Its so impossibly hard to see tears fall down her face. She really doesnt deserve to be treated this way. No one does.

    • A teengager says:

      I am a teenage girl going through the exact same thing as all the other girls mentioned. I have spoken to adults and teachers and the teenage years are when everything starts to change. If you’re not in the popular group you want to be in it and that can make you feel lonely even if you have close, supporting friends. However, you may find that the people you think you are close friends with aren’t the friends you hoped and thought they were. You may find they are more argumentative, bossy, dominating and less kind than you’d thought. In these situations the best thing is to just join other clubs, chat to different people. The move from primary to secondary school can make you change your personality and you may not remember what your old friends were like so you don’t know who to hang around with. This is completely normal. My advice would be to join clubs that you like doing, even if you don’t think you’re good enough or you’re nervous you should just do it and by doing this you’ll meet people you are like and get along with really well. If these clubs are in school that’s even better.

  4. L.Rod says:

    I agree with what these people have said, but my daughters situation is different. It is very hurtful to me! My daughter had 3 friends in 9th and 10th grade that were over my house ALL the time!! They even called me “ma ma R!” Then her junior year, I noticed a change! I could sense the dynamics were changing, and sure enough they did!!! Her “best friends” pulled away, and the one that she was closets with moved out of state!! The one that was the ” leader” so to speak, pulledvaway completely, and so the other friend that still lived here, pulled away!! All the sudden, I dont ever see any of them, the “leader” starts hanging out with a “more popular” group! The other one hangs with other friends and my daughter has only one friend and her boyfriend, who has already graduated! (the boyfriend) Now these girls are excellent students and involved in school stuff! And my daughter struggles in school. Well, actually, she is a late bloomer!! She has always put in MINIMAL effort, which is frustrating!!!! She is smart, but has only REALLY applied herself this year!!!! She was an excellent cross country runner her first two years but seems to have fallen behind in that too! She is way prettier than those other girls but they still don’t include her!! Those girls drink but my daughter has too! I’m wondering what happened for these girls to just dump her like that!!! It really hurts me, probably more than it hurts her!!! They are not mean to her but don’t include her anymore!!! Deep inside I know it hurts her, but she will never tell me that! They are basically nice girls and so is my daughter, but why would they dump her like this??? It really bothers me!!!! WHY??? Why would God allow this?

    • mike says:

      I am going thru the same situation as you. Our house was the house the girls came to. Took the kids to concerts and one on vacation, loved them all and then nothing. My daughter is alone and lonley. She won’t join clubs at school because she says they are for nerds. She tried another group but I found out they were drinking and some of the girls were having sex so I cut that off. Then I found out she had sex. She was so upset with her choices that she lost weight and was depressed. I took her for counseling and she said it was a waste of time and stupid. Her grades are bad and her mood is worse. My heart breaks for her.

  5. Mary says:

    I was also like you, Eaglewings, as a teen. I had low self-esteem but also was extremely shy and quiet. When friends would go off and get into trouble, I stayed out of it. It helps that while I had some friends who went off and drank or smoked, I had other friends who were like me. We were into other things like music and movies- and didn’t really care about getting into trouble.

    My advice for the Mother in the post is to encourage her daughter to join a club, sports team, newspaper, or band so that she can do something with other people that she enjoys doing. She doesn’t have to leave her other friends behind, but it would be helpful to meet other people who are not just into drinking and getting into trouble.

  6. EagleWings says:

    Thank you for taking my post in the spirit it was intended: which was just to give another perspective.

    I hope I didn’t come across as rude or critical. I am glad if people were able to learn from my experience or benefit from the post.

  7. Dr. Barbara Greenberg says:

    Dear EagleWings,

    Your comment is excellent. Thank you for adding that perspective.
    In life we all possess qualities that may appear to be mutually exclusive but are not such as being playful and being intensely serious etc.!

  8. EagleWings says:

    The original post said,

    “A teen with very low self-esteem would likely do anything to maintain friendships including engaging in behavior that she is not comfortable with.”

    That is not true for all teens.

    I had no self esteem as a teen, and I was very shy, but I came from a traditional Christian family.

    I was not willing to violate the Christian principles and morality I believed in for the sake of holding on to friends, or for making them.

    It is possible to be very shy and have low self esteem but have strong personal/ religious /moral convictions that young and not betray them.

    I had low self esteem as a teen, but I realized as a teen that many of the teens I went to school with were very immature.

    The teen girls (and many guys) I grew up with valued and judged people based on garbage that I knew, even as a teen, did not matter, such as the brand of jeans a person wore (if you didn’t wear the latest, most trendy brand, you’d get ridiculed, ostracized, etc)

    I did not enjoy, as a teen, being teased or ostracized by other teens if I refused to do something I knew was wrong that they thought was cool or fun, but I placed more importance on being true to my religious values.

    I can’t be the only person who was like that as a teen; maybe the daughter in this example is the same way – very mature for her age in some regards, but very shy and unsure of herself, too.

    It’s not mutually exclusive. A teenager can have both sets of qualities.

  9. Melynda says:

    Amazing piece of advice that brings up some of my own teen girl issues. Hope this young woman survives this trying period in her life–and what a great mother!

  10. Liz says:

    I like what Manic Motherhood said about being sad about it. It helps to acknowledge that this hurts!! Sometimes that is all we moms need to do – and then gently re-direct the kid to some activity. I have planned cheap getaways (even camping out at grandma’s) to get one of mine to not be home while a party is going on that they weren’t invited to and this was how they found out that they weren’t friends. My kids are two teen boys and a tween girl –

  11. Being a teenage girl is just not as fun as people think :) You received awesome advice here. Being the parent of a strong willed child myself, it really does sound like your teen more sad about it than anything else, as she should be. Teen friends change over time, just like our friends change over time. I think helping her to get over it now and deal with her feelings will help her when she is an adult.

  12. RL says:

    Ver helpful response. Thank you! I have had similiar issues and am relieved to read I am on the right track.

  13. The Village Idiot says:

    Your daughter is a leader and not a follower! Bravo! She must actually have pretty high self esteem if she feels comfortable enough to stand up for her beliefs even if it costs her friends. You should be pround of her instead of worried! Great job Mom!

  14. TJ says:

    Sage advice, indeed. Pointing out to the mother and us that daughter’s self-esteem may be better than mother thinks is remarkably astute. Thank you.

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