Friendship upsets are all part of growing up but some can be more damaging than others. Youngsters of all ages have minor disagreements, but the world of our tweens and teens is made more complex by the added dimension of controlling and manipulative behaviour, characteristic of the frenemy.
"How is it possible for someone you regard as a friend to simultaneously be your enemy?" My daughter has asked me this question on numerous occasions over the last year as she has continued to try and navigate a rather toxic friendship.
The behaviour of a frenemy is deceptive. Driven by a need for control the frenemy is good at making you believe that you are friends but in actual fact mutual respect is absent and their acts of friendship superficial, as they mask their real intention which is to exert power over you. Their game is played on a different level to the playground bully. For them it is all about domination.
My daughter suffered at the hands of playground bullies during her final year at primary school.
She is by her own admittance "quriky". Typical "girly" stuff has never been top of her agenda. Of course she cares about her appearance and rejoices in a girly shopping trip but not as much as she enjoys conversations about SIMS, Pokemon or Marvel. Sci-Fi movies win over Disney any day of the week. Jack Whitehall is her idol not Justin Bieber.
As a 10 year old girl these differences were regarded as odd by some other girls but the boys of course loved her for it. Faced with a table of girls at lunch talking about the latest nail polish colour or a group of boys discussing the cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe the boys won every time, satisfying her inquiring mind. As a result she had a lot of what we refer to as "friend boys".
Unfortunately, there were some girls who spurred on by jealousy or confusion about their own identity, delighted in drawing attention to her differences, making catty comments and generally making her miserable. It was a testing time.
Schools of course insist that they have a zero tolerance policy toward bullying. But how easy is it for them to pick up and what does zero tolerance mean exactly? A watchful eye? A warning? How much do our children have to suffer until someone intervenes and says "Enough is Enough!"
During my parenting years I have learnt that there is an unspoken rule amongst children in the playground that you don't snake, ie snitch. To complain to a teacher about the way you are being treated by someone else is deemed weak, unacceptable and a sure fire guarantee that your life at school will be beyond miserable until the day you leave.
We considered talking to the parents outside of school, after all the primary school world is a small one, but we didn't because both our son and our daughter insisted it would make the situation worse, so we bit our tongues and encouraged our daughter to turn the other cheek and rise above it, whilst her "real" friends built a protective wall around her.
With the advent of secondary school, we rejoiced, glad all that could be put behind us and she and we could move on.
The first year was bliss. She moved to an all girl environment. Admittedly we were unsure initially how this would work but it did. We had never seen her so happy "at school". Then unfortunately along came the frenemy.
My daughter's character shifted a gear. Naturally outgoing and vivacious she became more withdrawn and reclusive. Her love of drama and hockey diminished. Her interests changed. She was at this girl's beck and call, shunning her other friends to spend time with this girl who would then always let her down at the last moment. She lost her joie de vivre. It was quite simply soul destroying to watch and we felt powerless to stop it.
Then out of the blue there was a pivotal moment. The frenemy called time on their friendship. My daughter fell apart and we picked up the pieces whilst praying that would be it. Then just as quickly the frenemy apologised but in such a way as to suggest my daughter was to blame. Cautious now my daughter thankfully didn't jump straight back in but some contact was resumed. Frustrated perhaps by my daughter's reluctance, a period of cyber bullying followed. My daughter adhered to all the recommended guidelines and blocked her online but not before I had taken screen shots of the messages. My patience had worn thin. I didn't give a damn about the rules of the playground anymore. Her welfare was my priority and I wanted my daughter back how she used to be. I insisted she keep away from this girl or I would have to escalate the issue at school.
Of course to someone like the frenemy, being shunned was a dent to her ego and whilst my daughter has followed my advice and remained courteous whilst keeping her at arms length the frenemy has continued wherever possible to make hurtful comments, intimidate my daughter during class by sitting and just staring at her, or even interrupting her conversations. Individually these are all little actions but collaboratively they are very undermining.
Then last week happened. My daughter stood up to her.
The frenemy confronted my daughter accusing her of being immature for ignoring her.
"Do I need to remind you how you treated me last year? Do I? What is wrong with you? Your behaviour was not normal. The way you treated me was wrong. Now leave me alone!"
I listened quietly when my daughter relayed the story of her response. "Mum, I have never felt such rage. I was so angry. It came from the pit of my stomach. I was shaking so much afterwards. I am sorry."
Sometimes, just sometimes, sitting quietly, turning the other cheek and saying nothing is not enough. My daughter has endured more than her fair share of upset at the hands of others and this time she had had enough. She fought back all by herself and I am proud of her for that. There was no need for her to apologise to me. There is a time in everyone's life when it is time to stand up to your enemies and last week was the right time for my daughter to do just that too.
As a parent would I do things differently if I had the time again? Probably not. I am pleased that my teens discuss issues openly with us otherwise I think this scenario could have been so much worse, but in terms of stepping in I had to respect my daughter's wishes. She was the one dealing with the situation day in, day out and it had to be her call. In the end though the frenemy was shown up for what she really was, as are all bullies. As for our tweens and teens they need to be encouraged to speak up and put a stop to bullying once and for all.
Have you had any similar experiences as a parent? How did you cope with them? If you are a teacher I would love to hear your perspective.