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.
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 daughter Chloe 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 Chloe’s 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 Chloe was not seeing her every day, I became sure that this was what you’d call a toxic friendship.
Then Chloe began middle school and unfortunately Tiffany was in her same class rotation. They renewed their friendship and I watched Chloe spiral back down into the angry and withdrawn state she had been in at the end of her 5th grade year. I talked with her often about Tiffany and the things that were happening, but it only made Chloe more mad and more withdrawn, so I knew I had to tread carefully.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 Chloe 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.
Towards the end of the school year, some things happened that concerned The Maestro and me so greatly that we spoke with the school counselor about them. We also spoke with Chloe and insisted that she pull back from the friendship for once and for all.
Chloe 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 Chloe 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.
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10 Signs Your Child Is In a Toxic Friendship
1. They refuse to spend time at your house
I had Chloe invite Tiffany over so many times. Every time she said no way, but you can come to my house. I actually did not allow Chloe to go over to her 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 Chloe’s best friend. Chloe had another friend who has been her bestie for many years—she just didn’t happen to be in the same class as Chloe 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 Chloe’s other friendships and would make it difficult for Chloe to talk to anyone else at school. She excluded Chloe’s other friends. She texted Chloe 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 with Chloe and make her feel really bad. She also had other girls text Chloe 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 Chloe into saying she was her best friend, she pressured her to do many things she didn’t really want to do. Chloe has a strong sense of right and wrong, so when she refused to do something, Tiffany would make fun of her.
4. They speak poorly of your family
Tiffany had nothing nice to say about Chloe’s family. When Chloe 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 Chloe 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 Chloe dressed, the things she liked, her other friends, her family. You name it, she made fun of it. Chloe 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 Chloe 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.”
Chloe 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 Chloe 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.
Chloe 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 Chloe stopped liking them.
For the first day of school, Chloe 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.
Chloe 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 Chloe 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 Chloe for silly reasons. It tied poor Chloe 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 Chloe that maybe a friend who treated her like that wasn’t a very good friend, I would get in trouble with Chloe.
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 Chloe 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 Chloe and that I’d missed that.
“I like being Chloe,” was her response after thinking a while. “I’m glad Chloe is 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 as Chloe, but I’m glad I never had to find out.
Chloe 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):
A Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles (great for your daughters to read—we own it, and my girls have all benefited from it)
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.
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.
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