By Shelley Divnich Haggert
From the print edition, November 2011
At the end of Grade 8, your teen and her bestie cried and hugged and promised to be best friends forever. It sounded reasonable—after all, you’d watched them share secrets and sleepovers, meet milestones and share miseries for years. They’d laughed, cried and grown together; you joked about the kids being joined at the hip. But by the following October, the fabulous friendship you’d seen blossom over time appeared to have withered and died.
“After Grade 8 graduation, Emma* and I just didn’t seem to talk anymore,” says Jackie Watters, 15, of Windsor, Ont. “We were going to different high schools and even though we tried to hang out once in a while, it felt awkward.”
Although it’s probably no consolation to Jackie, what she experienced with her BFF, a girl she had known since age five, is a perfectly normal occurrence for teenagers, particularly girls. “It tends to happen around Grade 8,” says Dr. Scott Wooding, a Calgary-based psychologist and author. “It can happen later in high school, but it’s almost always girls who experience this. And when boys do see their friendships fade, it doesn’t have nearly the same emotional impact,” he observes.
Finding Common Ground
As kids mature, their interests change; birds of a feather, they say, flock together, and that’s how kids’ relationships form. “Friendships are based on common interests and maturity level,” notes Wooding. Jackie and Emma’s friendship began to falter when they attended different high schools, says Kim Watters, Jackie’s mom. “Jackie’s school focuses on the arts, while Emma’s involvement with sports increased.” Jackie also started working part-time, making social get-togethers even more of a challenge, in spite of efforts by Watters and Emma’s mom to get the girls together occasionally. “It’s not hard to make new friends,” says Jackie, “but I miss Emma. We were so much alike and we had all this history, like birthdays and outings and stuff.”
It hasn’t just been hard on Jackie; Watters found it hard to adjust, too. “It’s like losing a kid,” she says. “I really miss Emma.” She also misses the security of Jackie hanging out with kids she’s known for a decade. “As a parent, you have this checklist you run down: Who’s your friend? Where do they live? How do you know them? Are their parents home? With the old friends, you just knew all that and granting permission for a sleepover was no big deal.”
On the Outs
Sometimes, friendships don’t just fade; they end in a flurry of anger, hurt feelings or conflict. The kid who’s been hanging around your family room since Grade 4 is all of a sudden on your child’s list of people who aren’t to be mentioned anymore. However, even an apparent argument may have its roots in the same maturation process. “In all likelihood, there was already a drifting apart,” says Wooding. “And then one of them notices, feels hurt and confused, and there’s a confrontation.” Rarely is the friendship ended consciously.
If you’ve noticed your teen’s usual posse drifting apart, or she’s started mentioning new friends with more frequency than the old, there are some things you can do to help her cope. “The best thing you can do is listen,” says Wooding. “Most kids don’t want solutions, they just want to talk it out.” Reassure your teen that friendships change and that it’s not something to be taken personally. Support teens as they seek out new friends, but don’t try to help them select. “They’ll figure out who they’re comfortable with, and it will be people they share interests with,” says Wooding.
Developing New Connections
Despite your comfort level with your teen’s old friends, open your mind and home to your teen’s new social circle, advises Watters. “Run down the checklist, get to know the kids. It lessens the stress and worry.” And try to resist the urge to help your teen hang on to friendships that don’t exist anymore, or to play peacemaker when there’s been a falling out. “The worst thing you can do is interfere,” says Wooding. “And value judgments don’t help. Losing a friend is like being dumped.” Fortunately, kids do bounce back, he says, and go on to form new friendships—often ones that do last forever.
*Name has been changed