In middle school, my daughter was so excited about her new group of friends. It was a mix of the old gang from her elementary school days and a few girls from different elementary schools in our town.
Then, the drama started, as I suspected it would. After all, I was a teenager once; I remember all the feelings that come with being a 13-year-old girl: One day you’re friends with someone, then they decide they like someone else better. There’s a ton of pressure to look and act the “right” way. You feel like the most important thing in the world is to fit in.
It began one night when we were driving home from a basketball game. My daughter and her best friend were in the back seat. Well, she thought it was her best friend. Only, this friend suddenly announced that the new girl at school was her best friend. I looked at my daughter and could see her cheeks redden. I knew she was upset about this comment — which seemed deliberate, to my ears — but I didn’t say anything.
Later that night, my daughter came downstairs crying. It was pouring rain outside. She told me her friend had told her they could still be friends but just not best friends any longer. I was heartbroken for my daughter and furious at that girl. However, I realize this is life and there are times we hurt people and we get hurt. I was there for her, but I didn’t interfere. She had to figure this out and realize she’d make it through this.
That one exchange wasn’t the end of it. For about a year, that same girl played with my daughter’s feelings. There were times she wanted to hang out with her and times she acted like she didn’t know her. Finally, my daughter got a new group of friends. But lo and behold, the same sort of stuff started happening.
Now, to be clear, my daughter isn’t totally innocent. I’ve watched her do the same thing to friends. It seems too hard to include everyone, I guess, and teens haven’t developed the maturity and communication skills to handle tough conversations. So lots of teenagers just leave certain people out. I think some of it is pressure from their friends, and it’s also easier than having a conversation about taking some space. It also seems there are times when it’s a revenge tactic because it’s been done to them. I mean, haven’t we all been left out of something at some time in our lives? It’s not a good feeling and almost natural to want to make someone else feel left out before they can beat us to it.
Unfortunately, my daughter is still dealing with this dynamic. She will be a senior this fall and all the drama and cattiness and pressure around fitting in — and not fitting in — has made her hate school. She can’t wait to be done and honestly, I can’t wait either. The friendship drama has deeply affected her self-esteem. She’s had days when she doesn’t even want to go to school because of it. She’s been struggling with anxiety and depression. It’s hard for her to put herself out there because of what’s happened with certain friend groups in the past.
Some kids seem to let all of this roll off their shoulders faster than others, or they’re able to talk about it, or they’re able to go on with their lives easier than my daughter. Some kids are just more sensitive and it’s just tougher — and those feelings are valid, and important to acknowledge. She takes it to heart when it’s being done to her and when she does it to others I know it makes her feel bad. She tends to avoid certain situations and people when she’s feeling bad and completely shuts down instead of talking about it, even to me or her closest friend. She’ll refuse to go to social events, and school events, and she stops doing things she enjoys for a few days. There have been weeks when she’s been really sad and stayed in her room because of friend drama.
I constantly tell her that she doesn’t have to see anyone from high school after she graduates she doesn’t want to. I let her know it won’t be long and she’ll barely even think about some of her peers. There is still so much time in her life to meet true friends because I believe that with all my heart. I didn’t meet my true friend group until I went to college. Then, after I became a mother I met some more fantastic women. Friendship drama never entirely goes away — but it’s a whole lot easier outside of the pressure cooker that is high school.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.