Q: How can we teach our daughters to be more discerning about relationships with friends? I realise girls are more relational than boys, but sometimes I worry that my two “tween” girls are over the top and out of control in this area. Should I be concerned?
A: You probably don’t need to be overly concerned. Girls at this age do tend to be more relational than boys, and soak up friendships like a sponge. As with the onset of puberty, it’s something that happens whether parents like it or not. You should, however, be prepared to guide and moderate it appropriately as necessary.
We’d suggest you encourage your daughters to cultivate their bent for relationships in positive ways. Teach them to be kind, inclusive, and welcoming to those who aren’t part of their circle of friends. Emphasise the Golden Rule – and impress upon them the importance of keeping a compassionate eye out for children who’ve been marginalized by the “popular crowd.” Remind them that thoughtful, caring people are nicer to be around. Encourage them to choose friends of solid character.
At the same time, you’ll want to alert them to potential pitfalls. Tell your daughters to beware of any girl or boy who wants to “own” them or who tries to assert an exclusive right to their loyalties. Teach them that true friendship is liberating and open-ended, not demanding or binding.
You should also warn them about the dangers of cliquishness and the meanness of character it tends to foster. There’s nothing wrong with having a group of special friends, but it shouldn’t be an elite and impenetrable “inner circle.” As long as it remains “porous” – open to outsiders and newcomers – a group of this kind can provide girls with lots of opportunities for healthy and enriching social interaction.
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