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Frenemies and Bullying: Helping Girls Cope When Friendship Is Used as a Weapon

"This type of bullying is marked by crimes of omission... yet the pain, humiliation, and isolation are unmistakable."

The world of friendship and social status can be a challenging one for girls. Bullying prevention expert Signe Whitson observes that "adults often struggle with the question of, 'Should I intervene in a child's friendship problems?'" However, she asserts, "Kids need adult support and insights when it comes to navigating the choppy waters of friendship, disguised as a weapon." In an insightful Psychology Today article, Whitson, a child and adolescent therapist, provides tips for parents who want to help their girls through friendship conflicts and teach them how to find good friends.

Using friendship and social status for manipulation is called relational aggression, and Whitson says the first trick is helping kids recognize it when they see it. "This type of bullying is marked by crimes of omission that make it very hard for girls to put their finger on what they are experiencing in their friendships — yet the pain, humiliation, and isolation are unmistakable," she points out. According to Whitson, some of the common bullying behaviors that parents should make girls aware of include: excluding someone from parties and play dates; mocking, teasing, or saying something mean but following it with "just joking"; starting rumors and gossip in person, online, or by cell phone; and threatening to take away friendship if someone doesn't toe the line. By teaching kids that these actions are unacceptable, girls can "make a conscious choice to move away from friends who use these behaviors."

Girls also need to know that it's okay to be angry — but they need to express that anger appropriately. "Anger is a normal, natural, human emotion," Whitson asserts, "yet many girls, from a very early age, are bombarded with the message that anger = bad... [which] makes it difficult for young girls to stop and say, 'Hey. I don't like the way you are treating me right now.'" Parents who "teach their children how to be angry effectively — by role modeling assertive communication skills and by accepting anger when it is respectfully expressed — fortify girls with the confidence to walk away from toxic friendships."  Moreover, by teaching your Mighty Girl how to show her strength — even by using simple phrases such as ‘Knock it off,’ or ‘Tell me when you get to the funny part’ — she will learn how to send a "simple, powerful signal that [she] will not allow herself to be treated poorly.”

At the same time, parents need to provide a sounding board for their kids when they are struggling with a friendship — and, if necessary, a shoulder to cry on. "Kids need to have a safe place to be vulnerable — to vent, to talk about their friendship frustrations, and even to cry," Whitson argues. "Parents, relatives, teachers, counselors, and other caring adults are ideally suited to provide this safe place.... No child should have to find her way through painful conflict alone." Make sure she knows that she can talk about anything with you, even — or especially — if she's not sure how to act on her feelings, Whitson says: "I am all about teaching young people that it is okay to feel sad, or hurt, or angry, and that it is a good thing to talk about their emotions with others."

Most importantly, Whitson says, teach girls what a good friendship looks like. "When kids understand how a healthy friendship should look and feel, they are best equipped to extricate themselves from friendships that are toxic and damaging," she argues. She encourages parents to have an ongoing discussion about what makes a good friend, going beyond obvious factors like common interests to address whether a friend "helps me when I need it... [and] stands up for me" and  "uses words to tell me how she feels... [and] cares about my opinions and feelings." When parents teach their daughter what good friendship feels like, Whitson asserts, they give a gift that will last her whole life: "Fostering discussions and careful consideration of the values involved in making and maintaining healthy friendships is one of the most important things adults can do to help girls choose friendships wisely."

To read the full story, visit Psychology Today.

Books for Kids and Parents About Friendships And Bullying

Weird!

Weird!

Written by: Erin Frankel
Illustrated by: Paula Heaphy
Recommended Age: 5 - 8

In this book — one of a unique trilogy that shows bullying from the perspectives of bully, bullied, and bystander — popular girl Sam teases Luisa for everything from answering questions in math class to wearing polka-dot boots. Jayla initially joins in, but eventually refuses to participate any longer and befriends Luisa, helping her rebuild her confidence. In combination with the other two books — Dare!, in which Jayla recounts her fears about becoming Sam's target (as she has been in the past), and Tough!, in which Sam learns empathy and rethinks her treatment of others, this book creates a nuanced look at the emotions around bullying incidents.

My Secret Bully

My Secret Bully

Written by: Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by: Abigail Marble
Recommended Age: 5 - 8

Bullying can be so subtle that kids don't understand what's happening. Monica and Katie have been friends for years, but now, Katie embarrasses or excludes Monica in front of their classmates. Monica is hurt and confused — why would her friend do such a thing? Fortunately, with some help from her supportive mother, Monica learns that Katie is deliberately being unkind, and that this behavior isn't appropriate from a friend. With a few strategies to handle Katie, Monica feels confident again. One of the few books for younger children that addresses more subtle relational aggression, this book firmly drives home the message that no one deserves to be the target of this behavior.

Trouble Talk

Trouble Talk

Written by: Trudy Ludwig
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

Anti-bullying expert Trudy Ludwig wrote this book to illustrate how comments that can seem funny can still be hurtful. Maya’s friend Bailey loves to spread rumors about the troubles in other children’s lives, but when Bailey hears Maya’s parents fighting and turns it into a rumor that they’re going to get divorced, Maya realizes how painful this “trouble talk” can be. Both the school counselor’s advice to be friends with “kids who make you feel safe,” and seeing how hard Bailey has to work to heal the hurt feelings she’s caused, are good lessons for school-aged kids.

Friends: Making Them & Keeping Them

Friends: Making Them & Keeping Them

Written by: Patti Kelley Criswell
Illustrated by: Stacy Peterson
Recommended Age: 7 - 10

This interactive book features a combination of tips, anecdotes, quizzes, and hands-on activities to help girls learn everything from where to find new friends to how to introduce yourself to how to handle when a friend is being mean — or when a friend says you’re the mean one. A series of examples demonstrates how to respond to a friend in a positive way, while “trouble starters” show how particular behavior can cause strife in a friendship. It's the perfect guide to help kids develop their social skills for a lifetime of strong, healthy friendships.

Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends

Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way

Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends

Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness and Finding a Better Way

Written by: Patti Kelley Criswell
Illustrated by: Angela Martini
Recommended Age: 7 - 12

This book from the American Girl Library is a great starting point for tweens looking for advice on dealing with bullies. Rather than telling girls that there is a “right” way to handle a bully, this book gives a variety of different options, from ignoring taunts to comebacks to involving adults, as well as advice as to how to decide which strategy to use. The book acknowledges that not all mean behavior is necessarily malicious, though, and also provides a guide to knowing how to stand up to a friend who is behaving badly without being mean yourself.

The Confidence Code for Girls

Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self

The Confidence Code for Girls

Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self

Recommended Age: 8 - 12

Many girls are consumed by self-doubt on the inside, especially during the tween and teen years, but if they can crack the confidence code, they can learn how to set worries aside to pursue their dreams and embrace their authentic selves — something that helps fortify them against mean girl behavior and sets them up for a lifetime of success! In this book, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, the authors of the best-selling The Confidence Code for adult women, draw on the latest research to help tweens understand how to short-circuit the thoughts that drain your confidence and hold you back. Illustrations throughout help draw girls into the book, while lists, quizzes, and stories from real-life girls help readers understand how to embrace risk (and failure), overcome anxieties, and be happy in their own skins.

The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Book for Kids & Tweens

The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Book for Kids & Tweens

Written by: Signe Whitson
Recommended Age: 8 - 12

Take the principles of Signe Whitson's 8 Keys to End Bullying into the classroom or home with this activity book designed to help kids learn a wide variety of friendship, empathy, and anti-bullying skills! As kids try the quizzes, experiments, games, and challenges in this book, they'll learn how to differentiate between rude, mean, and bullying behavior; how to respond if they are bullied, and how to stand up when they see someone else being bullied; and how to connect with adults when outside help is necessary. Throughout, they'll learn confidence, emotion management, and key friendship skills that will last a lifetime.

A Smart Girl's Guide: Drama, Rumors & Secrets

A Smart Girl's Guide: Drama, Rumors & Secrets

Written by: Nancy Holyoke
Recommended Age: 8 - 12

The drama that can appear during middle school has a big effect on their social world — and their confidence. In this book, girls will learn how jealousy, gossip, and cyberbullying can creep into the lives of tweens and teens, as well as how to avoid them and stay true to themselves. They'll also learn what separates regular talk from gossip and how to handle difficult interactions over text or online. By learning how drama starts and how it gets worse, girls can find out what they can do to stop it from taking control of them and their friends.

A Smart Girl's Guide: Friendship Troubles

A Smart Girl's Guide: Friendship Troubles

Written by: Patti Kelley Criswell
Illustrated by: Angela Martini
Recommended Age: 9 - 12

Even the best friendships run into trouble occasionally! Whether your Mighty Girl is feeling left out, trying to figure out how to talk to a friend about a problem without hurting her feelings, or dealing with a friendship turned toxic through rule-setting, backstabbing, or bullying, there are tips to help her out in this book. Despite the focus on friendship troubles, the overall message is positive, reminding the reader that a true friendship will buoy her up, support her through the tough times, and leave her feeling her best.

The Teen Girl's Survival Guide

Ten Tips for Making Friends, Avoiding Drama, and Coping with Social Stress

The Teen Girl's Survival Guide

Ten Tips for Making Friends, Avoiding Drama, and Coping with Social Stress

Written by: Lucie Hemmen PhD
Recommended Age: 13 and up

Strong, supportive friendships can make all the difference in the teen years, and this book will help girls learn how to find the friends that she can lean on! Psychologist Lucie Hemmen offers ten tips grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help teen girls find good friends, work through conflicts, and weed out negative social habits. Individual chapters elaborate on key elements of friendship like using communication to nurture friendships and how to be the person you want on social media or while texting. By developing these social skills, Mighty Girls will be ready to find good friends wherever they go — and to help good friends through their own bumps in the road.

The Bullying Workbook for Teens

Activities to Help You Deal with Social Aggression and Cyberbullying

The Bullying Workbook for Teens

Activities to Help You Deal with Social Aggression and Cyberbullying

Recommended Age: 13 and up

In this excellent title from the Instant Help Solutions series, teens learn to understand and manage the difficult emotions created when you’re the victim of bullying or cyberbullying. Using cognitive behavioral techniques, this workbook helps teens identify and manage their emotions, from anxiety to anger to depression, and provides guides to getting help when bullying is getting out of control. By working through the exercises, teens will develop their confidence in handling their bullies and in communicating their emotions to the supportive people in their lives.

8 Keys to End Bullying

Strategies for Parents and Schools

8 Keys to End Bullying

Strategies for Parents and Schools

Written by: Signe Whitson

The response of a community can change a culture of bullying — which means that parents and educators can address — and combat — bullying. Whitson's 8 keys work in multiple ways on the three players of bully, bullied, and bystander, helping everyone to recognize bullying when it happens, step in when they can, and report the situation when it becomes too much for a child to handle. Her keys are flexible enough to use in for a wide range of ages, but by applying them early, kids can learn that bullying behaviors are simply unacceptable, and will always be treated with the seriousness they deserve.

No More Mean Girls
New!

The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls

No More Mean Girls
New!

The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls

Written by: Katie Hurley

Many parents think big social stressors first hit girls during the middle school years, only to discover that tough issues like low self-esteem, cyberbullying, and peer pressure are cropping up at younger ages. This invaluable book tackles "mean girl culture" and provides practical advice for parents on how to to teach girls to seek out and build strong, positive friendships; express themselves in a healthy way; and stand up for themselves and for others, empowering young girls to be kind, confident, and resilient leaders who work together and build each other up.

Queen Bees and Wannabes

Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World

Queen Bees and Wannabes

Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World

Written by: Rosalind Wiseman

This title revolutionized the way adults think of girls and relationship conflict when it was published in 2002. The third edition of Rosalind Wiseman's groundbreaking book addresses the same questions as the original — everything from how girls choose friends to how relationships with friends, boys, and parents influence them — and also explores the increasing influence of technology on girls’ relationships. Equally importantly, Wiseman addresses how a parent’s experiences affect how they handle their daughters’ social conflicts, and encourages parents to find the right balance between being involved and empowering their daughters to find their own solutions.

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