Ask any woman what was her hardest time growing up, and she’ll probably respond, “middle school,” which is fertile ground for mean girls, queen bees and frenemies. This not-so-pleasant period for hormonal, self-obsessed, emerging women has been subject of countless movies, TV episodes, young-adult novels and magazine articles.
If you saw the 2004 hit Mean Girls, you may recall Regina discussing her friend Janis: We were best friends in middle school….So then in eighth grade, I started going out with my first boyfriend….and Janis was like, weirdly jealous of him. Like, if I would blow her off to hang out with Kyle, she’d be like ‘Why didn’t you call me back?’ And I’d be like ‘Why are you so obsessed with me?’ So then, for my birthday party, which was an all-girls pool party, I was like ‘Janis, I can’t invite you because I think you’re a lesbian.’ I mean…there were gonna be girls there in their bathing suits…
So, as I prepare to send my daughter off to middle school this week, I can’t help wondering how she will maneuver the cliques and how I might protect her from the Regina-like mean girls she will no doubt encounter.
I was fortunate to miss the mean girl stuff in middle school; I was fairly quiet, kept a small circle of friends, didn’t care about popularity and basically was oblivious to drama. At the same time, my former locker partner gave birth to (and kept) a baby in seventh grade, so I had more important issues to deal with.
Nevertheless, it dawned on me that I should help my girl understand what makes a true friend and how she can serve that role for others. I wanted to give her permission to walk away from back-stabbers, self-esteem killers and secret-sharers.
A good friend is someone who:
- Accepts and appreciates you for who you are.
- Really listens to you. She isn’t texting other friends while you’re talking to her.
- Is happy when you feel happy, and sympathetic when you feel down.
- Stands by you during difficult times.
- Never makes fun of your weaknesses or criticizes you behind your back (e.g. on Facebook) or in public.
- Is painfully honest when necessary. She tries to stop you from making mistakes that you will later regret.
- Respects you, and who you respect.
- Trusts you, and who you can trust; she doesn’t lie to you.
- Doesn’t get mad at you too easily; a good friend is forgiving.
- Shows up on time, and doesn’t make lame excuses for being late.
- Is proud to hang out with you, and doesn’t drop your plans when someone more interesting shows up or something more interesting comes up
- Stands up for you when others put you down. She is brave enough to defend you in public.
Equally important is knowing how to be a good friend. As an ancient sage put it: “To have a good friend is one of the highest delights of life; to be a good friend is one of the noblest and most difficult undertakings.”
I found good advice in an article by J Dawkins, who suggests that to “be the friend we want to have,” we contemplate the following questions:
- Are you a good listener? A good friend is willing to listen rather than just talk.
- Are you approachable? Do your friends turn to you first to share problems or seek help?
- Are you trustworthy and reliable? If a friend tells you something personal, [do you keep] it in confidence, or do you…tell everyone at the first opportunity?
- Do you avoid gossiping about others? Do you avoid spreading hurtful rumors?
- Are you selfless rather than selfish?
Before I proffered my advice, I decided to ask my daughter what she thought. “A good friend is someone who is nice and treats you well, who cares about you, who makes you feel better if you are sad,” she said. “A good friend is someone who stays on your side and believes you if there is a problem, who, if you tell them a secret, wouldn’t tell anybody and who makes you feel good to be around.”
She’s going to be just fine.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 29 Aug. 2011