Posted on November 17, 2016 by Eliana Horn
When I first heard 90’s band ‘New Radicals’ sing about ‘frenemies’, I was convinced they were singing about Cecilia, who I would spend as much time giggling and sharing secrets with as I did crying and angry diary-writing about. Our frenemy-ship got so bad that I would beg my Mum to let me stay home, trying to convince her I was sick when in fact, I was dreading finding out what kind of a mood (and friend) Cecilia would be that day.
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Come the end of Year 6, Cecilia and I called it ‘quits’ when she moved schools, but the next five years would prove that hurtful, exclusionary behaviour between friends was, to the distress of almost every high-schooler ever, fairly common practice.
That’s right: forget the cliched image of the burly kid who takes your lunch money;
Some of the worst bullying that teenagers will experience is at the hands of those they consider friends. In these cases, interpersonal conflict often manifests in hurtful name-calling, stonewalling (otherwise known as ‘the silent treatment’), or the dividing and conquering of friendship groups (in which one person convinces a person’s friendship group that another person did something ‘bad’ and should be excluded or ridiculed). Other times, a person might find themselves at the butt of every joke or the recipient of ‘friendly’ pranks; one guy in my class found a dead possum and stapled it to the inside of one of his ‘friend’s’ lockers – hilarious… Right?
So why is it that the people we love and trust the most so often end up being the source of the worst pain? And why (I can happily confirm at the ripe old age of 26) do these hurtful interpersonal dynamics no longer tend to play-out within post-high school friendships?
My theory is this: teenagers are constantly being exposed to new experiences, feelings and social and emotional dynamics. Subsequently, they’ll likely find themselves testing out new conflict management and resolution strategies on a day-to-day basis. However, having had little to no experiences in traversing this tsunami of new feelings and experiences, teenagers are bound to (perhaps more than) occasionally choose the wrong strategy. So, instead of having a private talk-through a problem with a friend, they might find themselves being ignored, excluded, gossiped about, teased or with a dead possum in their locker!
The good news is this: practice really does make perfect, and the same goes for getting through sticky situations with friends. After getting it wrong a hundred times, people start to get a feel for how to get through disagreements and deal with hurt feelings without resorting to hurtful and defensive behaviours. Although it didn’t seem it at the time, I now recognise that all those fights, all the feelings I hurt and got hurt put me in good stead for my current relationships; romantic and platonic alike. At 26 I would never dream of asking my friends to gang up on a friend who upset me, because I’ve seen that play out and it never went well! So although I’m not trying to excuse ‘friends behaving badly’, I can offer this explanation and the silver lining that goes with it. I know it may not feel like any consolation when your face is red with humiliation or you can’t tell the difference between the shower water and your tears, but I offer it in the hope that if you’re currently in the midst of a miserable friendship, you might take solace in the fact that it won’t always be this bad.
Ten years on, there are people I considered friends in high school that I no longer speak with, some who did in fact end up crossing boundaries I couldn’t forgive, and some who I ended up simply drifting away from. There are however, those friends who I hurt and who hurt me that are now some of my closest friends. I put this down to the blessing that is – the passing of time and good will on both sides that acknowledges that high school is conflict resolution amateur hour, and that it could never really have been any other way!
Guest blog by Eliana Horn ([email protected]) who has just finished her Masters in Secondary Teaching and is attempting to find a life balance between teaching, writing and eating her way across the world. She is passionate about making school a place that teenagers want to be at, even on Monday mornings.