Michael Donovan, PsyD
Post Doctoral Fellow
New Jersey Permit Holder TP#193-010
During August, Summit Psychological Services focuses on the theme of friendship. You can read more on our website about the scientific benefits of friends, take time to reflect on the important relationships in your own life and even consider the type of friend you are. This month, children all around the state will begin preparing to say goodbye to summer and hello to a new school year. A range of emotions usually enter into back-to-school preparations including if previous friendships will be sustained and new ones made. In the first years of school, children often rely on their parents to help facilitate friendships- this can be seen in the coordination of playdates, the signing up of activities and sports and friendships amongst kids that may be a result of parent friendships or neighborhood friendships. But as kids get older, friendships often change. Their interests may change and personalities develop differently. It’s OK for children to hear messages that focus on the fact that some friendships in life change over time and that they should also remain open to the fact that friendships will be made during many different stages of life. A friendship can fade, but respect and kindness toward one another never should.
Friends are intended to bring out the best in you. They are the ones you have fun with, who make you laugh and make you feel supported. Friends are those you trust with the good, the bad and the ugly and are those who don’t judge. A good friend knows when a joke has gone too far, always considers your feelings and never tries to make you feel ignored, left out or anything less than awesome. So what do kids do when they have a FRENEMY?
A frenemy can be the most confusing type of friend to have and make no mistake that they come in all shapes, sizes and ages. But for kids, who are so busy navigating the social and emotional trials and tribulations of growing up, a frenemy can be a big problem. A frenemy is someone who you consider a friend but has many traits of an enemy. The type of person who as you’re telling them a secret, they’re making a mental list of who they’re going to tell. Not just because they can’t keep a secret but with the intention of defying your trust or embarrassing you. A frenemy is often competitive with you and you might not even know it. This could be in regards to academic success in the classroom, athletic success on the field or even levels of likability amongst peers and shared friends. This doesn’t mean a friend who competes with you is a frenemy- you might push each other in a positive and healthy way. But if it doesn’t feel that way, that’s a clue you’re dealing with a frenemy situation. A frenemy might smile to your face and roll their eyes to your back. They often work to align other friends against you, can be responsible for leaving you out or having the dastardly ability to bring tears to your eyes with a simple look, comment or gesture.
What can a child do about a frenemy?
Talk to a trusted adult:
Hopefully, that would be a parent. But sometimes kids just can’t believe their parents would understand. Other family members, teachers, school administrators, guidance counselors, therapists, coaches...the list could go on. Encourage your child to find a trusted adult they can turn to for advice or good old fashioned venting. Just like the playdates when they were younger, parents may need to do some work in the background to help facilitate this.
Develop communication skills:
Much easier said than done, but a worthwhile encouragement. Learning how to stand up to a frenemy is important. Help them role play and when possible, sharing stories they can connect with often helps. Frenemies are prominent in pop culture, on television and in the movies- use these characters to foster discussions, point out positive steps and to help open your child’s eyes and mouths. Help them learn to speak up!
A frenemy can sometimes bring about the worst in you. Often, there are shared friends in a frenemy situation. A larger group where both you and your frenemy find yourselves in the same circle but never too close. Avoid talking negatively about the frenemy to other kids. Rely on your friends- let them know how you feel but stay strong and don’t bash the frenemy...save that for your trusted adult. You should always be able to trust friends with anything but when involved in a frenemy situation, try to take the high road...let them go low.
Cherish the good ones:
Don’t let a frenemy interfere with the friendships you value and trust. They’ll often try. It won’t be easy but work hard to keep your distance from the frenemy. School, shared friends, and activities in common can often make this more challenging. Spend time with the friends who bring out the best in you. Parents should encourage this and support the child in recognizing that a frenemy situation is not healthy. Highlight the qualities of their good friends and celebrate those relationships. And don’t forget to remind them to be open minded to developing or deepening new friendships.
We’ve all heard the quote “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”...but is that a healthy suggestion for children dealing with a frenemy? Instead, help children recognize the difference between positive and negative relationships, empower them to speak up and stand up and help them develop the strength and confidence to decide a frenemy is not someone they want or need in their life. This month, and every month, celebrate the friends who make you laugh, the friends who are there when you cry and the friends who make you feel good about yourself. With friends like those, who needs frenemies!