‘A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the best things you can be.’
(Winnie the Pooh)
Children and young people’s friendships gradually increase in importance during the school years as the child’s focus moves from family towards contacts outside the home. This shift is an essential part of a child’s progress into adulthood.
Everyone needs to belong and human beings are designed to connect with others close to them. A child will be friends with children who are at school with them, those in social groups outside school, and those who live in the same neighbourhood. Such friends will share the child’s experience, understanding how it feels to be a child of that age, at that moment in time, and in that particular context.
Research shows that male and female friendships tend to differ: – More girls than boys will report having a best friend. Boys tend to have larger groups of casual friendships, while girls have smaller social circles, but more intimate relationships.
For many girls the transition from primary to secondary school is a period of instability. A girl’s best friends from primary school may develop new and different interests, and join alternative peer groups. While children will gradually come to realise that change happens, and personal relationships come and go, many girls find this shifting of friendships traumatic.
It is important for girls affected by such changes to remember certain truths: –
- In new situations, it can be hard to find your ‘tribe’, but given time, like minded peers will appear: friends who enjoy the same activities as you and share your opinions and beliefs
- You don’t have to be liked by everyone. It is natural to want to belong, but try not to conform if it’s going to cost you your independence.
- When you like yourself, more people will like you. You will also have the confidence to steer clear of unhealthy relationships.
- When friendships shift, learn to be happy with your own company. Take time to do the things that you enjoy.
- Healthy relationships will always allow people space: if you are too possessive with friends, they may feel smothered. Sometimes friends will want to go somewhere without you, perhaps on a family outing or to a club or group they belong to outside school.
- Remember that all friendships go wrong every now and then, and sometimes you are certain to be irritated by something a friend has said or done. This is a normal part of all relationships: forgive, forget and move on.
- Everyone has a lot going on in their life, so it would be egotistical to imagine that your peers are constantly talking about you behind your back.
- Friendship is a two-way street. If you expect friends to be there for you, you should be there for them.
- You need to spend face to face time with friends to maintain relationships. It is important to do things together: go swimming, shopping, to each other’s houses or the cinema.
- Good friends make you feel positive about yourself. Some girls work out their own insecurities through their friendships. On-off relationships can be exhausting, and social media make such games easy to play. Remember that manipulating others says more about the manipulator than anyone they are using so unkindly.
- There is a difference between being popular and being well liked. Popularity can be fickle. Girls who are popular tend to be fashionable, good looking, cool, have money and be popular with boys. Girls who are well liked are kind, fun, honest, friendly and co-operative.
- Friendships as portrayed in films and on TV are fictional friendships. Social media does not reflect real life.
‘Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.’
(Winnie the Pooh)