During the research phase of writing BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships, I honed in on nine “friendship truths.” These truths are simple but easy to forget, especially during times of struggle.
I share these truths in my work and my book because they help normalize kids’ experiences. Whether it’s changing friendships, or conflict and mistakes, these truths help preteens and teens understand that it isn’t just them. Relationships are tricky sometimes.
These truths do not eliminate discomfort or struggle. Instead, they connect us to our shared humanity. They remind us that we are not alone. That we are worthy. And that others are too.
Friendship Truth #3: Friendships have different phases and change over time
Friendship changes are sometimes uncomfortable but normal throughout childhood and life. Changes are especially common during the preteen and teen years. A small minority of students finish middle or high school alongside the same group of friends they started with.
A recent study on friendships found that more than ⅔ of friendships shift during the first year of middle school. Another study confirmed that only about half of adolescents’ friendships are maintained over a school year. In that same study, only one percent of friendships formed in seventh grade were still intact by senior year of high school.
Friendship change and instability
Friendship changes and instability are the norms during the preteen and teen years, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult. Think about how crushed young teens can feel when a formerly close friend becomes distant. Or the anxiety felt by a preteen that is suddenly dropped from a group.
At a time of increased independence from parents and a growing motivation for connection with peers, friendships fulfill critical social needs that provide adolescents with a sense of security, validation, and support.
“Spending time with their friends isn’t just a pastime,” says Mitch Prinstein, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina. “It’s actually something they need for their brain development and identity formation. They don’t know who they are until they see themselves through their peers’ eyes. So there is a lot of testing out new roles, new relationships.”
BFF or NRF Friendship Truth #3
Friendship Truth # 3 shares that Friendships have different phases and change over time. Understanding this helps kids (and adults) navigate change with the awareness that it is normal. The kids in my friendship groups found relief knowing it wasn’t just them. Everybody experiences this. These changes can be painful and challenging, but they are common.
The Friendship Pyramid
The Friendship Pyramid from BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) illustrates the dynamic nature of relationships. It shares the different types and phases of friendship and acknowledges change. It also reminds kids what to look for in friendship and how to be a good friend.
Kids (and adults) are works-in-progress. We are doing the best we can given our circumstances and skills on any given day. Through our friendships, we grow, change, and learn to be our best selves.
How Can Parents and Caregivers Help?
- Validate kids’ emotions. Friendship changes and struggles are especially challenging during the preteen and teen years. Listen deeply as kids process uncomfortable emotions and situations. By naming emotions, kids begin to tame them. Processing out loud helps kids find clarity and feel heard too. (Be sure to separate your feelings as a parent. Give emotional support to help them learn to cope and heal from pain instead of getting involved.)
- Avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. Social dynamics are often more complicated than they appear on the surface. Preteens and teens sometimes incorrectly assume harmful intent and jump to conclusions. There is always more to the story.
- Remind them that friendship changes are common and happen for all sorts of reasons. Encourage them not to take things personally. Kids learn how to be a good friend and choose good friends during this phase. People change, interests change and needs change. Mistakes and misunderstandings are common too.
- Let them know that it’s okay to move out of or take a break from relationships that aren’t kind and supportive. This is an important part of healthy boundaries. Practicing kindness when setting boundaries is an important skill that takes time and practice too.
- Find support if your child is becoming increasingly isolated. If isolation, loneliness, and sadness persist, reach out to a counselor or another professional for additional help.
During the preteen and teen years, kids of the same age vary enormously in terms of physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. During this phase, they seek to find their identity along with the peers they feel reflect their values and sense of self. The road is sometimes bumpy, but important as they learn social and emotional skills they will carry into adulthood.
About Jessica Speer
Jessica Speer is the award-winning author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships (2021) and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised (Releasing August 2022). Her interactive books engage and entertain readers by combining the stories of preteens and teens with fun activities, like quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids.