Bullied by a Best Friend: 10 Warning Signs Your Child’s Friend is Toxic

Are you worried your child is being bullied by someone who is supposed to be a friend? Look for these ten warning signs that your kid might have a friendship that is toxic and unhealthy.

Do you suspect your child may be being bullied by someone who is a friend? Read about the ten warning signs of a toxic friendship.

I learned about toxic friendships when my daughter found herself being bullied by her best friend during middle school. She has allowed me to tell her story here in the hopes that it will help others recognize the signs in time to help their children get out of an unhealthy friendship.

About halfway through the 5th grade my middle daughter changed somewhat drastically. She went from the cute, happy, One Direction obsessed girl I loved to an unhappy, sullen girl who didn’t really know who she was.

As her mother, I worried greatly about the sudden change in her. I didn’t know if it was hormonal or if something else was going on, but soon enough, I began to suspect that the friendship of a girl in her class was the root of the problem.

Once school was out, the two girls didn’t spend any time together and I gradually got my happy girl mostly back. She still communicated often with this friend (let’s call her Tiffany) via text and other social media, but they never saw each other in person. When I realized how much happier my daughter was not seeing her every day, I became sure that this was what you’d call a toxic friendship.

Then she began middle school and unfortunately Tiffany was in her same class rotation. They renewed their friendship and I watched my daughter spiral back down into the angry and withdrawn state she had been in at the end of her 5th grade year. I talked with her often about Tiffany and the things that were happening, but it only made her more mad and more withdrawn, so I knew I had to tread carefully.

This went on through all of 6th grade, and while I had many long talks with my daughter and prayed for her harder than I ever had, I continued to watch my bright child be beaten down by Tiffany. She lost her self-confidence. She lost her individuality. She no longer enjoyed the things she has loved for her entire life. She treated her family unkindly. She was just plain unhappy.

And I hated to watch it.

Child's best friend is actually a bully | Child has toxic friendship | bully prevention | my child is being bullied by a friend | cyberbullying | warning signs of bullying | negative friendship | how to get rid of a toxic friend

Towards the end of the school year, some things happened that concerned my husband and me so greatly that we spoke with the school counselor about them. We also spoke with our daughter and insisted that she pull back from the friendship for once and for all.

She actually seemed relieved when we put our foot down completely, and when school was out for the summer she finally opened up to me. All of her feelings and experiences concerning Tiffany came out in a big, emotional deluge and we could finally start to help her heal from the literal trauma she had been through for the last year and a half.

If only that had been the end! Once Tiffany figured out that she was cutting ties with her, the cyber-bullying began in earnest. I have never been so angry in my entire life than I was when these texts and Instagram messages were coming in. We blocked her number and social media accounts, but Tiffany kept creating new Instagram accounts for the express purpose of saying horrible things to my daughter.

Because it was summertime, we ended up having to go to the local police about the Instagram bullying before it finally stopped. I never imagined that my husband and I would find ourselves in a police station over things said to our daughter on social media by a 12-year-old girl. But there we were.

As a mom, I have felt partly responsible for the whole mess because I wasn’t prepared to deal with such a friendship. It took me several months before I even realized that this friendship was the reason my daughter was so unhappy! I often wonder what might have been different if I had been able to nip things in the bud sooner, but if nothing else I have learned some great lessons myself.

Now I know exactly what to look for in a friendship. I know what the warning signs are and in the future I will be much better prepared to deal with a situation like this. I’m sharing them here in the hopes that I can help other parents recognize the signs of a toxic friendship between kids.

Want to remember these warning signs? Download the checklist by entering your email into the form at the end of this post.

10 Signs Your Child Is In a Toxic Friendship

1. They refuse to spend time at your house

I had my daughter invite Tiffany over so many times. Every time she said no way, but you can come to my house. I actually did not allow her to go over to Tiffany’s house until the very end of the whole saga, and I only did it then because they had to do a school project together.

I thought it was totally weird that a friend would adamantly refuse to visit our home, but as it turns out, that itself is a pretty big warning sign of a toxic and controlling friendship.

2. They don’t allow your child to have other friends

Despite what my story above may lead you to believe, Tiffany wasn’t actually my daughter’s best friend. She had another friend who has been her bestie for many years—they just didn’t happen to be in the same class together for both 5th and 6th grades. Thank goodness for her, or I think things would have been a lot worse.

Tiffany wasn’t having any of that, though. She routinely inserted herself into my daughter’s other friendships and would make it difficult for her to talk to anyone else at school. She excluded my daughter’s other friends. She texted her on a regular basis to ask her who her best friend was, and if she dared say someone else’s name, she would become very angry and make her feel really bad. She also had other girls text my daughter to ask her who her best friend was.

3. They pressure your child to do things she doesn’t want to do

Not only did Tiffany pressure my daughter into saying she was her best friend, she pressured her to do many things she didn’t really want to do. My daughter has a strong sense of right and wrong, so when she refused to do something, Tiffany would make fun of her.

signs of a toxic friend | toxic friendship in kids | bullying | how to know your child is being bullied | cyberbully | bully

4. They speak poorly of your family

Tiffany had nothing nice to say about our family. When she finally talked to me about everything she had been holding in, the one thing that made her cry the most was when she told me the things Tiffany had said about me and my other daughters.

Even worse, apparently Tiffany’s parents also made fun of me. I don’t know if that is actually true (despite trying multiple times I had never actually met her parents), but she told my daughter these things in order to hurt her, and it worked.

5. They make fun of your child—to her face!

Tiffany made fun of the way my daughter dressed, the things she liked, her other friends, her family. You name it, she made fun of it. My sweet daughter tried so hard to be stoic about all of it, but of course it hurt her deeply.

6. Your child feels she has to please the friend at all costs

I don’t think my daughter realized how much she was doing this, but from my vantage point it was a lot of “Tiffany said I have to…” and “I need to do _____ for Tiffany.”

She would also get extremely worried if she could not do something that Tiffany wanted her to do. Probably because she would get in trouble somehow later!

7. Your child changes her behavior significantly

Not only did she become angry and withdrawn and just plain not herself, she changed other things. Things like the way she dressed, for instance.

When she started 5th grade, she loved dressing up really girly and cute, but when she started hanging out with Tiffany she began to only wear sports t-shirts and athletic wear. Because that is what Tiffany wore.

She had been obsessed—like fangirl obsessed—with One Direction for all of 4th grade and the first part of 5th grade. But Tiffany didn’t like One Direction, so my daughter stopped liking them.

For the first day of school, she wore some red polka-dotted jeans that she loved, put a flower in her hair, and was excited about her One Direction bag. On the last day of school, most of the girls dress up at my kids’ elementary school.

My daughter was a graduating 5th grader and absolutely refused to dress up that day because of Tiffany. Those sweats and t-shirt were the nicest thing I could get her to wear—and that was quite a bit dressier than what she usually wore at that point, so I didn’t push her.

8. They get pleasure out of playing cruel jokes on your child

I will not go into details here, but suffice it to say the things that I contacted the counselor about were cruel jokes Tiffany played on my child that were deeply concerning to me and my husband as parents. But they affected our daughter in a very negative way, too.

9. They get angry at your child on a regular basis

Half the time, Tiffany was just mad at her for silly reasons. It tied my poor daughter up in knots. She is the type of person who lights up a room and wants everyone around her to be happy, but her talent for that didn’t seem to work on Tiffany. But whenever I told her that maybe a friend who treated her like that wasn’t a very good friend, she would get upset with me.

Warning signs that your child's best friend might actually be a bully. Parents—look closely at the friendships your child has and take steps to help them leave the unhealthy and toxic relationships behind.

10. Your once happy child is angry and withdrawn

The worst thing for me was being deprived of my child for more than a year. My daughter is happy and fun and bright and always has been. But for this time I rarely got her to smile for pictures (if she even agreed to take one), she was mad at me and her dad and sisters all the time, and she withdrew into her room to text Tiffany an awful lot.

A few weeks after the whole situation was resolved, we were riding in the car together and she was really excited about something. She was back to her happy and bubbly self. She looked at me, honestly confused, and said, “Why am I acting like this?”

I told her she was just acting like herself and that I’d missed that.

“I like being myself,” was her response after thinking a while. “I’m glad I am back, too.”

Thankfully, Tiffany transferred to another school for 7th grade. I’m not sure what would have happened if she had stayed at the same school, but I’m glad I never had to find out.

My daughter has been herself this 7th grade year, and what’s more, she has learned some really important lessons about friendship and is so much more mature because of it.

I just wish it didn’t have to be such a difficult lesson to learn.

Looking for more resources to help your kids with their friendship troubles?

Try these books (affiliate links):

Related: 16 Things Your Teenage Daughter Needs to Hear From You

Whether or not your teen daughter (or teen son!) has a toxic friend, talking to them is different than it was when they were smaller.

Related: How I Finally Found a Way to Limit Screen Time Without Being the Bad Guy

This experience with Tiffany prompted me to set some real big limits on phone use and other screens. I did not want her to have 24/7 access to my daughter.

This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

Want to remember these 10 warning signs? Download the checklist!

Enter your email address and receive the checklist right to your email inbox.

Powered by ConvertKit
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Benjamin Hawkins

Thank you so much This info is extremely helpful


Thank you for this post, it sounds similar to what my 12 year old has been dealing with. Most recently the mom of the girl contacted me saying my daughter beat her daughter up at school during gym class. As a teacher I know that if it had happened like the girl said it did it would have been on camera, someone would have seen it, and the kids at school would have been talking about it. I contacted the principal, he investigated and found nothing of the sort. This has lead to many discussions about the true friendship of the girl in question and her intentions. We have also had many discussions about what a real friend is. Thankfully my husband and I are in the process of moving to a new town so my daughter will not have to deal with this girl for much longer.

Amy Gebhart

My granddaughter got caught up in the things you can see on tick tock and some other more explicit websites. Please check what your middle school kids are looking at. I know they scream “privacy” but you pay for that phone! Her so called friends were texting her sites to go on to ” kill your dad”. It causes her so much anxiety that she is on medication. No more phone, changed school and heavy restrictions and she is feeling better. Thank God we found out when we did before she hurt herself or someone else.