Mean Girls: Supporting your teen through friendship struggles

When your teenager gets excluded from their circle of friends, it can be a painful experience for them and you. Seeing them struggle to navigate the complexities of friendship breakups is tough. You may remember similar situations from your childhood, which can feel especially heartbreaking when they happen to your child.

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Friendship breakups can feel more brutal than romantic breakups because we don't expect every romantic relationship to last, but we envision our friendships will. These friendship breakups hit teens particularly hard. Our friends are crucial in shaping our identity, even more so in our teenage years. Friends are the ones who are with us through thick and thin, and when these relationships end, it can cause a lot of sadness and distress.


Understanding the dynamics

  • Teenage friendships are complicated - social hierarchies and dynamics can affect individual relationships within a group, even though it may feel personal. Our teenage years are times of significant changes and fluctuations, impacting friendships and group dynamics. It isn't uncommon for friendships to shift due to evolving interests, personal growth, or social dynamics within the peer group. 
  • Don't underestimate the influence of peer pressure and its role in shaping teenage friendships. Teens may conform to certain behaviours or interests to fit into their social circles, which can impact the dynamics of their friendships.
  • Inclusion and exclusion dynamics are also prevalent in teenage friendships, with a desire to be part of a particular group and the potential exclusion of those who don't conform to group norms.

It's important to note that if your teen is autistic or has ADHD, they may find navigating friendships particularly challenging. However, the following tips can help, regardless of whether or not your child is neurodivergent.

Recognising the signs of social exclusion 

Some of the more common signs your teen is being excluded by their friends:

  • Withdrawal and isolation: You might notice a decrease or lack of participation in social activities inside and outside school.
  • Changes in mood and behaviour: Such as increased irritability, sadness, or signs of depression and a decline in academic performance or a loss of interest in hobbies.
  • Lack of invitations or involvement: They consistently do not receive invitations to social events and have minimal or no involvement in group discussions, either in person or online.

How to support your teen

Open communication

  • Keep your communication channels open with your teen and create a safe space where they can share their feelings without being judged. It's important to acknowledge and validate their feelings.
  • Be available and supportive but not intrusive. You can check in with them regularly to see if they want to talk. When they do speak to you, it's important to listen without passing judgement.
  • Don't badmouth the other kids or get involved with their parents. Even though this feels difficult, it could end up with them feeling they can't trust you, and they might close up. Instead, focus on your teen and how they're feeling.
  • Be wary of jumping into fix-it mode and remain calm. Your child needs to know you're there and you support them. Tell them you're confident they can get through this, given some time. 

Help them look after themselves

Remind them that it's OK to miss their friend and feel sad about losing the friendship. Give them time to grieve, but also remind them that things will get better, and they will get through it. 

Encourage healthy friendships

You can help them develop new, positive friendships by suggesting ways to get involved in social activities that align with their interests outside their current group of friends. This could be sports teams, music or dance classes, book clubs or reading groups, gaming or coding clubs – as long as it's something they're genuinely interested in. It's easier to form meaningful connections with people you share interests with. There are people your teen may have met in the past, but they haven't had a chance to connect with one-on-one before now. 

Remind them of the supportive adults they have around them

You can help them identify and strengthen their support network within and outside school. This could be a teacher, school counsellor, or another adult they can talk to, who they feel has their back. This isn't about telling tales; it's about reaching out for support when they need it.

If the situation escalates and you're concerned about bullying or notice that people are targeting your child, you can inform the school. Please don't do this behind their back. Talk to them about how the escalation means getting extra help. Consider gathering a team of you, your child, and the school to find solutions. Working collaboratively with your teen and the school is the best strategy.

Building resilience

Reassure them that they're a person worthy of love. Remind them of all the brilliant qualities they bring to others' lives and friendships. Encourage them to pursue outside interests and friendships outside of school through extracurricular activities, dance classes, choir, or football. 

Steer clear of social media

Help them avoid following their old group on social media. It's not helpful for your child to remain attached to the group of people that excluded them. Encourage them to connect with new people and discourage them from following the people from their old group on social media. Seeing their posts can trigger memories of the pain they experienced and slow down the healing process. Responding or reacting to their posts can keep the cycle of negatively going, so it is best to avoid it altogether.

Encourage them to focus on new connections and experiences rather than dwelling on the past.

Being a parent or carer is hard, and parenting teenagers has its own specific challenges. Don't feel that you have to do it on your own – as a counsellor specialising in working with parents of tweens and teens, I work with parents like you to find ways of strengthening their relationship with their adolescent child. 

If this has resonated with you, why not get in touch and see how I can help?

Contact me via my Counselling Directory profile today to schedule a session.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Lewes, East Sussex, BN7
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Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Lewes, East Sussex, BN7

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People constantly rush, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted.

I specialise in supporting parents and carers as they navigate their child's tween and teenage years. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone

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