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Helping Teens Set Boundaries with Needy Friends

Published: June 1, 2011 | Last Updated: May 14, 2024 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading
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How do you help a teen set boundaries when they have needy friends that drag them down?



My 15-year-old daughter is in a tricky situation. Her friend has just lost her dad, but my daughter is feeling overwhelmed by this friend’s neediness. The problem is that my daughter felt somewhat suffocated by this friendship before the loss!

The friend is 18, but has had a very secluded life, is homeschooled, has no other real friends, and acts more like a 13-year-old. She lives about an hour away from us in a very rural setting, but comes in to town for errands, etc. My daughter wants to help, but this friend, who is an only child, mainly wants to talk about herself. The interesting thing is that she does not seem to want to talk about her loss.

I think this girl is sweet, but she needs more than my daughter can give. We are setting boundaries, e.g. not daily phone calls, etc., but I think this girl needs more than my daughter can give right now; I think she could benefit from counseling. We want to help, not hurt, but this is such a very fine line we are walking.

Concerned Mom


Dear Concerned Mom,

This sounds like an unfortunate situation and a tricky one for you and your daughter. Your concern that your daughter may be in over her head is well placed.

It sounds like you have had a frank and open discussion with your daughter—which is an important first step—and she agrees that she wants to step back a bit from the friendship.

Explain to your daughter that as much as she cares, her friend needs more help than you and your family can provide. Encourage her to balance this friendship with other ones.

Since the friend doesn’t attend school, perhaps you can speak to the surviving parent, express your condolences, and tell her how difficult this must be for her family. Suggest that it could be helpful for her reach out to her church or to a grief support group for guidance on how to help her daughter get over this loss.

I also posed this question to Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a specialist in adolescent psychology for a second opinion. Dr. Greenberg is co-author of Teenage as a Second Language.

Here is her advice:

Needy friends are difficult to have in times of calm and even more so when they are experiencing stress or other psychological turmoil. One characteristic of good friendships that often gets lost in the sauce is that friendships should be characterized by reciprocity. Your daughter is not really doing either herself or her friend any good by tolerating a friendship that is so lopsided. The needy friend may believe that this is the nature of a truly good friendship unless someone is kind enough to point her in the right direction, that is, away from talking only about herself.

Clearly, it may not be easy for your daughter to explain this to her friend. This situation does provide you as a parent with an opportunity to talk to your daughter about how to best deliver potentially painful feedback. And this is how it’s done-with kindness, calm, and with a self-check that includes asking yourself if you are coming from a place of good intention. If the answer is yes, then support your daughter in speaking honestly with her friend.

Hope this helps!!


Other posts on The Friendship Blog about teen friendships:

A Teen Asks: Why are friendship so fleeting?

Nothing but Trouble: Mom can’t stand her teens BFF

Teen daughter with not one close friend

Painful teen friendships: What’s a mom to do?

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Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Your stepdaughter sounds like my godchild. Chameleon is the word. I don’t know what she really feels about anyone. She doesn’t seem to be bottling up resentments, but does not seem happy either. I worry that the number 1 motivation is to not ruffle anyone’s feathers. What scares me is when she goes out of her way to agree about something, then you find out later she doesn’t feel that way at all, really. Or does she? She’s not really what I would call a giver. She isn’t always doing favors for everyone. She just “goes along to get along” to the point where she ends up not letting anyone know her. I don’t think I can say too much to her mother, though her mother, who is my dear friend, does seem aware of it. But she too can be like a chameleon.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Also, we recently got in a big fight and she is staying with her mom full time and running even more. Her dad is hurt by her behavior and feels she has chosen her mom over him. Her mom has been diagnosed as maybe having asberger’s (she can be really unemotional and mean) and when they are together, mother and daughter are so unemotional. Her mom gives her as much freedom as she wants and even, her credit card, to go shopping for food at the beginning of a school week. We were trying to be more like a family, but it seems she doesn’t want this right now (she’s 17 soon to be 18). Guess this could be because I told her she was no longer welcome here after we got in a huge fight. Her dad is just giving everything time, but I feel we should try to connect with her more or she’ll feel unwanted and like we are abandoning her. Any advice would be appreciated! Tonite, she texted me and said that she hasn’t been contacting us because she’s been crazy busy. Her dad doesn’t want me to respond to her because he is so hurt by her…I don’t know what to do.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My stepdaughter lives with her mom half time and my husband and me halftime. I have been told she has adjustment disorder. As I see it, she is constantly running and can’t seem to relax. She has 4-5 best friends, but they all consider her their best friend and want one on one time with her. I am worried about my step-daughter, but don’t want to stick my nose in an awkward situation or hurt her feelings. I just feel that she needs to slow down and take care of herself a bit before always pleasing and giving to others…her dad and me included! I feel like she is a chameleon!

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