Two related things happened this weekend:
First, I learned that my High School Reunion is coming up this summer (!!!). I’ve never been to one, and I’m surprisingly excited to go. And second, #2 Cherub asked if I would preach a sermon series at church about friendships. Specifically, the friendships that happen during the school years of life, when you have less control over things like who is in your class and where you sit.
This sent me on a wild trip down memory lane, as I pulled out photo albums and wondered where my yearbook landed the last time we moved.
I don’t remember receiving specific advice about friendship when I was a kid. We were taught as toddlers to share, not to push or call each other names, and that if we could manage an hour or so of outside play where no one came back bleeding, there was often cookies & Kool Aid in the deal to make it worth our effort.
As we got older, we were expected not to be bullies (although some kids were.) We were expected to be respectful and polite (although some kids weren’t.) There was a lot of teaching about behavior, but not much that I recall about friendship. (How you handled the former more or less governed how you experienced the latter.) I think this system served us pretty well and prepared us for life: No one was ALWAYS popular, it was okay to have friendships across different groups, and I gained a ton of abstract understanding about humanity – primarily that friendships have seasons and that somehow in the complexity, things work out.
But #2 Cherub wants specifics. She is very “have a plan and work it” in her approach to life, so I want to give her solid pieces to consider as she makes her plan.
So I ask you, fine readers: What specific, tangible advice would you give about making and keeping (and ending) friendships?
One caveat: PLEASE don’t say, “Be Kind.”
Let me explain…
Kindness is the primary relationships narrative taught at her school right now. It looks lovely on a banner, but is not all that helpful in the depths of actual tween/teen relationships. It’s a starting point, obviously. But it’s not even close to the total skill set you need to build healthy, fun relationships.
I don’t think my friends and I were always kind to one another. We were pretty real. Caring. Occasionally b*tchy. Supportive. We had spats and subgroups and times when some weren’t speaking to others. As challenging as some of those aspects were, were learned a ton as we figured things out. Yes, it sucks to go to school when one or more of your friends isn’t speaking to you. But it toughens you up. And you learn that these things don’t last forever, and at some point you won’t remember what even caused the rift. And how to move forward (or, as I learned later in life with different friends, to move on.)
When I look at the challenges my daughter faces now, I wonder if all this pressure to be KIND – nice, nonjudgmental, endlessly accepting to the point that there is no room to consider her actual response to people and situations – is part of the mean girl epidemic we see?
Don’t get me wrong. There have always been mean girls. But you could usually look behind it and see, even as a kid, “Oh, I bet that’s why she’s like that.” I don’t remember it being a norm, or something expected of a certain group of girls. I feel like we limit the development of nuanced skills when all the emphasis is on being KIND. Because if you’re not KIND, you’re pretty much only left with MEAN. So you might as well make the most of it.
So now I’m wrestling with what to teach #2 about friendships. Because I think they matter so much.
See this picture? My Dad calls it, “The National Honor Society…and Trish.” :) It’s not even an insult – just a candid acknowledgement of my priorities during those years (shopping, anyone?)
I applied to colleges primarily because that’s what these friends were doing. I first visited Wheaton because it gave me an excuse to see my then-boyfriend at Boston College. So much of life is what you wind up in the middle of because of who (whom?) you’re with. (Cue joke about needing a friend who loves grammar…)
I just don’t think “be kind to everyone” offers enough as a governing principle. It’s like an Allen wrench: it’s either exactly what you need in the moment, or of little use at all.
But what’s the better advice?
Tell me…What would you tell your school-age self about friendships?
What would you tell a school-age kid today?
9 thoughts on “Friendships, High School & Advice for #2 Cherub”
So many thoughts!
K and I are dealing with friendship stuff a lot too albeit on a simpler level b/c she is 8. But I totally agree it’s NOT all about “kindness.” Kindness, politeness, niceness is a trap. If you use that as your guiding star — the side of things you force yourself to always fall on — then you can be pushed wayyyy overboard by more nefarious people and with relatively little effort. You cannot handcuff yourself to flawless niceness without it becoming a prison.
What people should be is compassionate. Be observant, be empathic — try to “get it” when it comes to other people so you have a nuanced understanding of what they’re dealing with and of your own response to them. But we also all NEED boundaries. (This is showing compassion for oneself.) There is only so much we can bend over backward to understand someone who is behaving awfully — and possibly damaging-ly to others including us!
My kid has always been the type to let people run her over quite a bit before she snaps. I once witnessed her as a 3 yo at a children’s museum playing with a dollhouse. A 2 yo boy toddled over to her, got way too close and just kept going. He physically STOOD ON HER lap, butt in her face, as he decided to play *exactly* where she was sitting (there were no other kids around). I watched thinking, Well now how is she going to handle this… But she just looked at me shocked and baleful and didn’t say one word to the other kid. Didn’t react even a little. While BEING. STOOD. ON. One might say this was “kind.” One might also say this is being a doormat. So most of her life I’ve been teaching her boundaries and setting limits with how other people are allowed to treat her before she cuts them off (temp or perm).
Some of what I’m hearing in your post makes me think that Cherub 2 is being like K in that she is being perhaps a bit too overly accommodating. An easy trap to fall into these days, especially:
• as a female in our culture
• as a POC in our culture
• as someone still relatively new to the school(?)
• as (as you put it) someone at school age — who has no control over who they are stuck in school with
I think too that in a scenario of having been in foster care — with all the extreeeme stress that that has foisted on her — it can be very difficult to know what one’s feelings are anymore. In extreme and lasting stress (I have been there many times as kid and adult) it’s actually more self-protective to NOT know what one’s feelings are. Because to KNOW the feelings makes painful situations 1000x more painful. Yet when that stress goes on for an extended time…..you can get stuck that way. It’s hard to get back in touch with what your feelings even are. Which naturally can impact setting boundaries b/c one may not be able to figure out (feel) where to set them. It’s not a permanent effect but it does require some concerted effort to fix. Journaling is amazing for this btw.
Anyhow — for what they’re worth — below are a few key thoughts about friendships that K and I talk about again and again:
• You teach people how to treat you. If you let them treat you like garbage, they learn that that is ok. So you gotta nip that baloney in the bud — the sooner the better.
• The most important thing anyone ever learns is how to get along with other people. But not everyone’s parents/caregivers teach them this very well. And even when some parents try to teach it, some kids don’t listen. These are kids who have to then learn the lessons the hard way — when the other kids don’t put up with their bad treatment and don’t want to be around them. But at least that’s a way they might finally learn.
• A good friendship or relationship is one where there is much more good than bad. That’s something you just have to eyeball and weigh in your gut. But it also shouldn’t be a lot of work. So if there’s more bad than good, or it feels like work to be friends with someone, then you two are prob just not meant to be — for now anyway.
• Some kids with bad friendship behavior wind up as grown ups with the same bad behavior. At that point, it’s pretty much permanent. But with kids, there is always hope. They can have hard lessons to learn and they may take a realllllly really long time to figure them out. But since they are kids, they always deserve to be given another chance — periodically though, not daily.
• Issues with someone are between you and that person. When some 3rd party gets involved and wants to tell you off about some issue you have with someone, do NOT take the bait. They are not doing this to “help” even though they feel very self-righteously that they are. They are doing this because they enjoy the drama. Tell them, “That’s between me and X and we will work it out ourselves.” No good ever came from sending a 3rd grade (or 8th grade or 11th grade) “advocate” to mediate a situation. It only feeds the flames and makes things worse.
• All friendship have a time limit. Some will last for eons. Some just for a few months or years. It’s important to realize that it’s ok to let them go. But it is often harder on one person than the other and it will be awkward for both. That’s just something we have to live with.
Martha, these are SO GOOD! I love having these windows into your conversations with K. Just amazing. And you’re spot on about so much of this, especially about keeping a protective distance from feelings. Thank you for these specific, tangible friendship gems!!!
We have four basic ideas in school…be kind, be safe, be respectful and be responsible. They are a good foundation, but I believe you are so incredibly accurate to say there is a lot more involved in each of those ideals. One of the things I have always held on to about my friendships in life is I do not have to agree with my friends all the time or be happy with them all the time…it is okay to disagree or think they aren’t perfect, because guess what neither am I (not even close). The important thing is my friend enjoys spending time with me and will take the time to listen. On the other side, I will also do the same thing for a friend. I have been a lucky person in my life to have many life long friends whom I may not see often, but am always happy to see. Hopefully, they feel the same way..in the end treating others the way you want to be treated is the best rule of all…guess that’s why they call it the golden rule.
Kellie that’s what I keep coming back to…the Golden Rule, with different variations on the same theme!
1) Choose friends whose company you enjoy. If you feel like you have to agree every minute or correct your statement because of a look, this might not be a friendship to nurture. If you find yourself laughing with someone a lot and mutually seeking each other’s companionship- that’s a friendship to nurture. 2) Make an effort to spend time together. Invite your friend to join your family for dinner, study for vocab, exercise, or whatever you like to do. Building a history will help you understand each other’s moods and opinions. 3) Develop trust. Share small confidences. Make plans. Develop trust so that you can share your belongings and secrets, and a trust each other to keep plans. I think these three things are my keys to making and keeping friends.
Yes to all of these – thank you for these great points! It takes a village :)
Brene Brown’s marble analogy in Daring Greatly
I’ve moved 14 times in my life, my father used to tell me that in order to have friends one must be friendly, which doesn’t really help much. My mom said just be a good conversationalist since people like to talk about them selves, but then you can be burdened with 50 people’s problems, and no one to hear yours.
Soooooo for better or worse what I usually do when I walk into a room full of people I don’t know is do a mini assessment, which may or may not help.
1.) Who is doing something kind for others? –the girls who brought the MOPS group pecan pie even when it wasn’t her week is really nice.
2.) Who is dressed neatly & cleanly (and stylishly because lets be real) –in south Florida the list of people who stink is actually an undiscussed issue.
3.) Who is a good conversationalist? — who can not only talk about various topics but draw others into the conversation, being sure that no one is left out?
4.) Who has a laugh that doesn’t annoy me? –my mother scolds me that this is shallow, but throughout my life I have had friend whos laugh pains me to hear, and I do love them to death.
5.) Who needs a friend? – I don’t like seeing people sitting alone, although to be fair, there have been times when they WANTED to be alone and I ended up being alone with them.
As a teen I read, “How to win friends and influence people.” I don’t remember if its good though.
This is awesome and hilarious! Thank you for this! (I’ll be laughing at your line, “the list of people who stink is actually an undiscussed issue…” all day :) )
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