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Middle School Friendships: What should this mom do?

Published: August 19, 2013 | Last Updated: August 19, 2013 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading
Middle school friendships can be minefields for mom and their teens. A mom asks how she can get her daughter through the eight hour days of 8th grade.


Dear Irene,

If only there was a magic wand for navigating middle school friendships. My 13-year-old is a kind soul and a high-achieving student who finds schoolwork easy. She loves to read and dance ballet, and adults would describe her as very polite and thoughtful. She attends a rather small school and was eager to see friends when she returned to the classroom last week.

After day two, she asked if we could talk. After we sat down in a quiet and private space, she burst into tears and said, “I hate 8th grade. I don’t want to go back. I don’t have any friends and I am not popular. Can I stay home on Monday?” I was shocked and listened to her describe being ignored by her best friend.

It appears that a strong-willed girl may have conjured up a story in hopes of ending the friendship between my daughter and her friend, and picking up this ex-BFF for herself. It worked.

Mind you, my daughter has never had a huge number of friends and rarely gets social invitations. She is not in sports with the girls in her grade level. I would describe her as “friendly” with her peers but also quick to become quiet and stand aside if she feels out of place. She is happiest with the boys and girls at ballet — most of whom are in high school and who treat her as an equal. But that will not help her through eight hours of 8th grade every day.

Your blog has offered endless great advice to help us parents put into perspective the rocky road of teenage friendships. My question is this: My daughter has no idea why she is being shunned by someone she describes as kind and funny. She expresses herself well in the written word. Should she send a note to this ex-friend, telling her that she has been a great friend, that she is sad that it seems she no longer wants to be friends, but wishing her a great eighth grade year? Or, does she just leave it alone?

We spoke to the school counselor this weekend and will be back at school on Monday. I am very open to having my daughter see an adolescent counselor for support. Meantime, though, she might want to send a note but I don’t want to encourage that if it will be thrown back in her face.

Any advice is welcome and most appreciated.

Best, Cyndy


Dear Cyndy,

Middle school friendships can be brutal. Teens change allegiances quickly, often without any good reason. Kids who are different in any way—even if they are smarter, prettier or more mature—can have a tough time. It’s far worse for those who are not as bright, less attractive and immature.

As a mom my heart aches for you and your daughter. A few thoughts to help your mind rest easier:

1) Your daughter sounds mature for her age given that she relates well to older kids of both sexes.

2) It’s terrific that she is able to express her feelings and feels comfortable enough to speak to you about her friendship problems.

3) You sound like a wise parent who isn’t rushing in to manage your daughter’s friendships. Rather, you understand the importance of helping her learn to manage them on her own.

When a teen has few friends, goes to a small school, and tends towards being shy or introverted, the loss of one good friend can be particularly painful, especially if this is the first time it has happened. It’s almost like breaking up with a boyfriend for the first time.

As you have already done, continue to be a good listener and explain to your daughter that some very good friendships end for not very good reasons. Perhaps, you have an example to share of when it happened to you.

She has nothing to lose by telling her ex-friend she misses their friendship and doesn’t know what went wrong. Is there an opportunity to speak to her briefly in private, either at school or by phone? If your daughter does decide to handle it in writing, she should make sure her note doesn’t come off as sounding too needy or desperate, and that she isn’t too confrontational. A note can be passed around to other people. Whether she speaks or writes a note, the other girl may or may not respond but your daughter will know she has done the right thing.

Since this is the beginning of school, remind your daughter of the importance of focusing on her studies. Also remind her of the friends she has at ballet and that she will make new friends at school as well if this friendship isn’t rekindled—although that will take time.

Involving the school counselor is also a good idea because she/he may be aware of cliques or other problems at school that you don’t know about. The counselor may have some ideas of ways to engage your daughter in school-based or after-school activities with kids in her grade.

I wish I had a magic wand to loan you, too! But you are doing all the right things. Hang in there.

Best, Irene

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Comments (3)

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  1. tina says:

    I pray that my son and daughter have a much better experience in middle school than I did. I gave all my time and energy with my best friend who ended up turning on my during the last year of middle school. Homeschool anyone?


  2. Sheryl says:

    Poor kid! Girls (and boys) can be so mean. I remember the middle school years as being particularly challenging ones. And I found that to be true for my own children, as well.

  3. Amy says:

    My only caution about writing a letter would be if this ex-friend would show the letter to others, as mean girls sometimes do. Even if this ex-friend isn’t a mean girl, she might use it as social capital if your daughter is indeed a target.
    I’ve found that girls are the meanest during middle school years, even more so than in high school. Of course, of your daughter doesn’t risk, there will be no reward. If I were you, I’d go over the possible negative consequences of putting her heart on paper, and let her make the the best decision as she sees fit. If she’s aware of a “worst case scenario”, if that does indeed happen it’ll be less traumatic.
    I think it’s great that you want to be proactive and not micromanage your daughter’s relationships. School counselors can be great resources, but there also limited by the number of students they must be available too.
    If you notice changes in your daughter’s sleeping, eating, or school habits, taking her to a professional counselor is probably a good idea. Also if she seems to be withdrawing.
    It’s great you have such a close relationship where she trusts you with this disclosure.
    Encourage her to talk to other kids, even if they aren’t her friends. It’s okay to have acquaintances at school she doesn’t consider good friends, especially since she has other friends outside school. Remind her of all the qualities that make her a good friend. Listen much more than you talk. She already knows you’re her safe place to land, many of her peers don’t have such a situation.

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