As this fall back-to-school season commences, and many of your kids are transitioning to middle school, I am reminded by a group of 6th grade parents I met with a few years ago. The pain in the room was palpable. Why are these kids so mean to each other? And why aren't parents on top of their kid's meanness? There is nothing more painful than comforting your young teen who has been excluded from some event that ALL her friends have been invited too, except for her or him. And often adding insult to injury is that the parent of the excluded can not understand why the parent of the excluder doesn't step in and tell her child that either everyone is invited or no one is invited.
Middle school reeks havoc with friendships. Kids in 6th grade come into middle school with their best friends from elementary school. But in the melting pot of new kids from the other schools in town, new kids who have moved into town and kids who have moved from private school to public school, the old friend relationships often takes a hit. Maybe a new kid sees in opening in a group, forms an alliance with a "new friend" and courts that group for membership. She may see someone in that group as a barrier to membership and seeks to oust that kid to make space for herself. There is nothing more important in middle school than having "your group."
One of the moms in this group told me of an incident where all her daughter's best friends and one new friend had been invited to a sleepover, but not her. She was devastated, and found out that the "new girl" had lobbied against her inclusion. As we dug a bit deeper, I found out that the new girl had not been invited to an after school outing that the excluded girl had hosted. Are you following me here? So I think that the new girl was doing a little "payback" for not being invited to the after school event. 'If she didn't invite me to her thing than I'll make sure she doesn't get invited to this other thing." Oy, yes it's petty, it's hurtful, and it's normal.
Now the question that came up with these moms, is should they intervene, and make sure that everyone is included? Here is what I think. In elementary school, it is all for one and one for all. Everyone is included as much as possible. But as kids move into adolescence, friendships take on a new dimension. When they were younger, any body would do, as kids get older, they do begin to look more closely at their friends. Do I even like this kid? Do we have anything in common? Maybe one of the friends is ready to move on to more teenagery behavior, and feels like they have outgrown an old friend. Is it the parent's job to keep these friendships, unfortunately no. Your teen does have a right to move on from people. But as a parent it is your job to help them do it with as much kindness and mindfulness as they can. Because as kids grow into teens, they do become more narcissistic, and are looking out mostly for themselves. They do need some help.
In that earlier example, I do think both of the moms might have said to their daughters:" Hey honey, I noticed you didn't invite X. She has always been one of your good friends. What's up with that? I think her feelings will be really hurt. I get that your friends might be changing, but maybe we can figure out a way for you to that without hurting her feelings." Your job as a parent during this difficult time of transitioning friendships is not to make them feel guilty for wanting to move on, but to help them with a strategy that will be the least hurtful. Middle school friendship transitions are probably the hardest it will ever be. These kids are so vulnerable and so much is changing for them simultaneously that as parents we just want to protect them from all this hurt. Hurt is part of life, and teaching them coping and recovery skills can help.