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I’m witnessing my 10-year-old daughter’s friendships become
more complicated. When there’s a tiff, it’s not as easily forgotten as it once
was. There’s more drama. Girls are forming cliques. I’ve even heard stories
about “mean girl” behavior.
While my daughter isn’t a “mean girl,” she’s friends with a
girl who can be trouble. This girl latched on to my daughter a few years back
(my daughter is on the shy side), and she hasn't let go. This girl is known to
disrupt class, disrespect adults and pick on other kids (including my
daughter). I wouldn’t call this girl’s behavior severe, and I often think she may
outgrow it. But it still disturbs me, and I wonder: Do I need to be concerned
about this girl, this friendship? The short answer is yes, according to psychotherapist
and parenting author Mary Jo Rapini.
“Many times kids make great choices, but sometimes the
friends that choose your child are not great choices, and for some unknown
reason, your child cannot get away from these types of friends,” said Rapini. “These
friends are what I refer to as ‘toxic friends.’”
According to Rapini, toxic kids seek out kids who are kind
and compassionate, because they think they’re easy to manipulate. “It
replicates abuse,” said Rapini. “It’s a form of bullying. Kids that get into
these friendships are usually chosen.”
Signs a Friend Is
If parents aren’t watching closely, a toxic friend can be
tough to spot. “The toxic friend may appear like the nice kid-next-door to you
as a parent, “said Rapini.
So here are some signs that your child’s friend may be
- They treat parents and adults with disdain.
- The friend teases and belittles your child.
- They encourage your child to act badly at
- The friend wants to keep secrets all the time.
- They’re rude in public.
- They pick on people or have a bully attitude.
- The friend disrespects your family’s rules.
And if your child becomes obsessed or concerned about
pleasing this friend—that’s a big red flag. “There is a good chance the power
balance has shifted, and your child is being used,” said Rapini.
Getting Out of a
So what do you do if you’ve decided your kid’s friendship is
“toxic”? Rapini says your child needs to
“see the light”—they need to understand why this friendship is not a good one.
To do that, talk to your kid about what a good friendship looks like, and then,
while not attacking, explain why the friend’s behavior in not acceptable. “Be
honest and firm with your observations,” said Rapini.
And kids need help ending a friendship – this is not
something they can navigate alone. “Your child also needs to know they are
supported by you as these types of friends often have power over your child,”
said Rapini. So she suggests parents and kids create a plan together. Here are
less and less available. Have your child decline invitations to hang out with
this friend, and never extend an invite to them.
- Let all
communication fizzle. If the friend texts your child, they should reply
minimally, if at all. The same goes for phone calls.
limits. Enforce all family rules (regarding texting, phone calls, curfews),
as toxic friends try to manipulate these. If your kid disobeys, follow through
your child to blame you. If the friend is putting your child on the spot (for
example, confronting your child about not returning texts or hanging out), tell
your child to blame you. “Your child will need an excuse at times, and if they
are able to say, ‘My parents will ground me if I do that,’ it helps them save
face,” said Rapini.
- Add more
structure to your child’s life. The more activities your child has, the
less time they have for this toxic friend. This will also encourage new
may be best. For older kids, when issues like drinking and drugs are
involved, your child can flat-out tell the truth: this behavior makes them
uncomfortable, and it’s time to part ways.
It’s best if you can see the cues and prevent toxic
friendships from forming, rather than trying to break them up later.
Regardless, Rapini says toxic friendships are not something parents should take
lightly. “Self-esteem is fragile in the tween and teen years,” said Rapini.
“One toxic relationship can destroy your child’s self-esteem for years to