You’re driving your daughter and two of her friends home from the movies. Your minivan is filled with giggles and whispers, but before long you start to hear what they are talking about.
“Did you hear what Jennifer answered in math today?”
“I know! She is soooo dumb. It’s like she doesn’t get the easiest things.”
“I heard they might hold her back a year.”
“Yeah, they should. She can’t even read out loud.”
The scathing comments continue until you put a stop to it.
Adolescent girls seem to be particularly vicious when it comes to these sorts of things. I’ve often wondered if there is anything we can do as parents to make sure these toxic discussions don’t start again as soon as adults are out of earshot.
While friendship is an intricate, complex equation that isn’t easily defined, focusing on a few character traits can pave the way toward better relationships.
• Compassion—investing whatever is necessary to heal the hurts of others.
• Gentleness—showing consideration and personal concern for others.
• Loyalty—using difficult times to demonstrate my commitment to those I serve.
• Patience—accepting a difficult situation without giving a deadline to remove it.
• Sensitivity—being aware of the true attitudes and emotions of those around me.
• Tolerance—realizing that everyone isat varying levels of development.
The importance of friendships cannot be understated. In her book, Living a Connected Life, author Kathleen Brehony quotes the psychoanalyst John Bowlby, “From these intimate attachments, a person draws his strength and enjoyment of life and, through what he contributes, he gives strength and enjoyment to others.”
We all hope that our children will be thoughtful to everyone they meet and have care and compassion for the least among us. The first step in achieving this is taking a look at our own behavior. Do we make snide remarks? Engage in gossip or petty squabbles? Children pay attention to everything we say and do.
Be a positive role model.
We can also be proactive in recognizing our children’s positive behavior. Acknowledge and praise your child each time he or she shows compassion, gentleness, loyalty, patience, sensitivity or tolerance. Teens may roll their eyes when you do this, but everyone likes to be complimented, even adolescents. It may take time, patience, compassion and gentleness, but we can all learn to be a little more sensitive, a little more tolerant to build loyal friendships that will build our strength and make life more enjoyable.
To read more about the complexity of teen relationships, check out Girl Politics: Friends, Cliques and Really Mean Chicks by Nancy Rue. All readers (both boys and girls) will enjoy the story of friendship presented in Masterpiece by Elise Broach. The best part, this is actually a middle grade mystery novel, so if you think your child might balk at a book aimed specifically at improving relationship skills, then this is a good choice.
Gayleen Rabakukk is a freelance writer who spends her time in Edmond keeping up with her teenage and preschool daughters.