by Kari Kampakis
A woman in teen ministry once shared with me a term that describes the state of female friendships in the middle school years.
In other words, friendships can change a lot in this stage of life. They may ebb and flow as everyone makes new friends, explores new friendships, and sometimes grows apart.
The growing apart may not be intentional; it’s often a matter of not having classes together or the same extra-curricular activities.
We typically become close with the people we see the most, and as teenagers evolve in their passions, personalities, and circumstances, their relationships evolve too.
This is a tricky thing to navigate for girls and their moms. While I’ve been really proud of the friend choices my daughters have made – and I feel certain that many friends, including old friends from elementary school, will be friends for life – it’s hard to see an old friendship slip away and wonder what ever happened to that cute girl you used to see all the time.
Why don’t you have Isabella over anymore? I don’t hear much about her – is everything okay? The response is often something like, “Yeah, I love Isabella, I just never see her.” Nothing specific happened; it’s just that life is busy, and there isn’t enough time in the day to spend time with everyone you like.
Sometimes girls drift apart for a reason. Sometimes a falling out triggers sudden mistrust. A girl who your daughter thought was a friend (in my book I call them 50/50 friends) does something hurtful or mean. Or a group of girls may gang up on one girl because she made the leader mad. The scenarios are endless, and the lesson to be learned is that girls sometimes must learn the hard way what true friendship looks like.
The overriding point is, friendships change. Friendships get put to the test, and only time will tell what the final shake-out will be.
So what’s the solution? I don’t have that, but I do have some thoughts to share with your daughter if she feels insecure or worried about friendship fluctuations:
1. It’s normal for friendships to evolve and change. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It simply means you’re growing up.
2. Everything will be okay. In time your friendships will solidify, and you’ll know more clearly who is good for you and meant to be in your life. Be patient, pray for good friends, and pray to be a good friend. Remember that true friends are worth the wait.
3. Rather than focus on finding the right friends, concentrate on being the right friend. There’s a saying that “Water seeks its own level,” and this means that people are drawn to others who are like them. So when you treat people well, you’ll attract friends who treat you well too. By holding yourself to high standards, becoming the friend you wish to find, and choosing to be an encourager rather than a critic, you set yourself up for positive and long-lasting relationships.
4. Even when you find your “people”, always leave room at the table to invite someone new in. Recently we took my daughter and some friends to a restaurant to celebrate her birthday. A classmate was eating nearby with her family, and we invited her to join us. This girl was a delight, and I fell in love with her. I was thankful to meet her since my daughter had never been in her class or had the same activities.
Monday at school, she gave me daughter a friendship bracelet that she’d made as a thank you. I was speechless, because what this girl didn’t realize what was a gift she was to us.
This event reminded me of what can happen when you invite someone new to join you, and how many great opportunities we all let pass by when we’re hyper-focused on our friends. By reaching out beyond your circle, you open the door to receive unexpected blessings.
5. Love your friends well, but keep a loose grip. Give them space to explore new friendships and explore new friendships yourself. The great thing about middle school is that there are so many people to meet. As multiple elementary schools merge, it’s a prime opportunity to make new friends and get to know different people who bring out different sides of you. Stay loyal to your old friends and know who you count on, but keep yourself open to making fun new connections.
6. Remember that everyone is learning and gradually maturing. Just because you don’t click with someone now doesn’t mean you won’t click later. My husband and I met when we were 18. One night at a party, we talked outside for hours. While I liked our conversation, I kept waiting for it to go deeper. It never did, so the story ended there.
Five years later when we started dating, I teased him and told him that I assumed he was shallow that night because all he talked about were his fraternity brothers, going out, and having fun. He laughed and replied, “I was an 18-year-old boy…I probably was shallow!” At age 18 we weren’t ready for each other, but five years later we were. He had grown up, and so had I. The same thing can happen with friendships, so keep a good rapport with everyone, even if you think you have nothing in common.
7. The biggest friendship killers are jealousy, comparison, insecurity, and fear – fear of rejection, fear of being left out, and fear of being alone. Acting on these emotions can turn you into someone you’re not.
By being aware of your negative emotions (I’m jealous that my friend is so pretty….I’m freaking out that I wasn’t invited to that party) yet learning the self-control to not act on them (I’ll pray for help to overcome my jealousy… It’s okay that I wasn’t included because I can make other plans) you’ll join the rare breed of girls who are confident enough in themselves to not make friendship too hard or dramatic.
8. Form your own opinions about people, and don’t believe everything you hear. Just because your friend dislikes someone doesn’t mean you should too. Just because a rumor is flying around doesn’t mean it’s true. Treat everyone like a friend until they give you a good reason not to, and when possible, give people the benefit of the doubt.
9. Know the difference between committed friends and casual friends. Committed friends are the kind you carry through life. They have your back and will stand in your corner even if they’re your last friends standing. Casual friends are the kind you have for a season of life, maybe a few seasons. You have fun together and your personalities click, but there isn’t a great deal of loyalty.
Committed friends make up a small portion of your social network. Casual friends make up a large part.
10. Be kind, and keep in mind that kindness is more important than popularity. Can kind girls be popular? Of course! But making popularity your ultimate goal is a bad idea, because you’ll do anything to impress the “right” people, even compromise your values.
The better option is make kindness your goal and treat everyone with equal respect, from the custodian of your school to the principal. Kindness is contagious, and when you act kindly, you inspire others to be kind too.
Change is hard – but change is also good. Change makes us stretch beyond our comfort zones and grow in new directions. And while the fluid nature of middle school – and trying to keep old friendships while exploring new ones – is an adjustment, it can strengthen your faith if you seek peace in God’s stability when your life seems so uncertain.
By embracing change rather than fearing it, and trusting it will all work out, you can keep the right attitude and look forward to what’s ahead as your relationships expand and deepen.
Kari Kampakis is a blogger, author, speaker, and newspaper columnist from Birmingham, Alabama. Her two books for teen and tween girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked: Whose Approval Are You Living For, have been used widely across the country by teen youth groups and small groups to empower girls through faith. Kari’s work has been featured on The Huffington Post, The TODAY Show, EWTN, Proverbs 31, Yahoo! News, The Eric Metaxas Show, Ann Voskamp’s blog, and other national outlets. She and her husband, Harry, have four daughters and a dog named Lola. Learn more by visiting www.karikampakis.com