A parent’s guide to handling friendship drama

Preteen and teen life can be so hard. Your daughter or son are dealing with friendship drama gone wild — stirred up over something that’s seemingly minor.

The question is: how do they need your help?

It’s not an easy decision. You naturally want to jump to your child’s defense in any situation, and when he or she is dealing with friendship drama, it’s no different. You want to step in and help them smooth things over…or you want to step in and report another child’s behavior to a parent. But should you? Navigating this issue requires walking a careful line. You want to step in when you’re needed but you want to let your child handle the drama to learn and grow.

Read on to learn some tips on knowing the difference between the two scenarios.

No drama, mama: What is friendship drama?

Before we get too far into this conversation, let’s cover the basics. Friendship drama is any sort of issue that disrupts the normal ebb and flow of a relationship, whether that’s between kids or adults.

When it comes to kids, this type of drama typically crops up during the adolescent years, and it is very common among preteens and teens.

While it’s likely that you experienced it as a child, drama seems to have gotten increasingly worse over the years, possibly due to the insurgence of technology. These days, you don’t just have an argument with your friend in person — that friendship drama can spread across texts and on social media.

These situations can happen over anything and everything, from where you sit in the cafeteria to who likes which girl or boy or posts on social media. Most of the time, navigating through this is a normal part of childhood. But there are some things parents should know about friendship drama.

Friendship drama — When to step in vs. when not to

It’s natural to want to know when you should step in to help your child handle friendship drama. The short answer — in many cases, you shouldn’t. It’s important to allow your son or daughter to learn how to handle small battles and arguments for him or herself.

That said, though, parents should step in when friendship drama turns into bullying. It can be hard to tell where the dividing line is between the two. After all, sometimes childhood drama can be mean.

But you’re looking for signs that your child or another child is being picked on or harmed physically or mentally. That may show up in multiple ways, including more frequent headaches or tummy trouble, changes in eating or sleeping habits, diminishing academic performance, or even a sudden disinterest in friends and social situations.

If you suspect your child or teen is being bullied, it’s important to have honest conversations and then to step in to help your child through the issue.

When the situation is simply drama, though, there are steps you can take to help your child navigate the drama and learn lessons:

  1. Ask questions about what’s happening. Ask open-ended questions that will help your child walk through what’s happening and how he or she can handle it. Depending on your child’s age, you may want to first ask whether he or she would like your help deciding how to work through an issue. Let them know if they change their mind, you are always there for them.
  2. Listen to listen, not to answer. This one’s hard, we know! But instead of listening purely to try and formulate a reply, truly give your teen your undivided attention. Give visual cues like nodding your head that you’re paying attention or interject small comments that make it clear you are listening.
  3. Practice the art of affirmation. Growing up is hard! Children need adults’ help to know that they’re on the right path and making good decisions. That includes when they’re making decisions related to their relationships, so if your child makes a positive choice, be sure to affirm that choice.
  4. Model healthy friendships. Friendship drama isn’t exclusive to kids; it occurs in adult relationships all the time. So, make sure you’re sharing good examples of friendship and healthy relationship habits with your child. That may be in your own life, or you may also want to use books or TV to demonstrate healthy ways of working through drama.
  5. Let your child/teen fix the problem. As we said earlier, when bullying is the issue, that requires a parent’s intervention. But most normal friendship drama can be worked out among the friends, with some encouragement from parents and other adults. Don’t jump in to fix the problem — first see if your teen can solve it him or herself.

Adolescent health issues require a unique approach. That’s why Erlanger offers specialized Adolescent Medicine services to help navigate the physical and emotional challenges of this age. Call (423) 778-5522 for more information.