Teaching a teen to say “no” to her friend

A friend of mine was telling me about a problem his daughter’s facing and I’m rather stymied as to what she can do to improve the situation too. Apparently she’s tight with another girl who is nice, attentive and a long-time friend, but has a bit of a temper, and when they’re together, all too often the other girl decides what they’ll do and dismisses my friend’s daughter’s views and opinions. She is not thrilled about this and finds it more and more troubling.

My immediate response is: bail. Just stop hanging out with the girl entirely. The problem is, I am informed, the girls do really like each other and my friend’s girl doesn’t want to give up this other girl as a friend.

Alright, then, just see her less, or, better, tell her what’s bugging you (we Boulder folk refere to this, of course, as “speak your truth”). Tell her that you feel it’s too often her calling the shots and you having to just go along even if it’s not what you want to do.

That’s probably good advice, but as I was told quite bluntly, that’s an adult way to deal with things and – probably – a male way to deal with things too. Teen girls, I’m informed from my friend and my own daughter, are way more circumspect and tiptoe around these sort of things rather than grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns as I am wont to do.

So apparently I don’t have any useful advice for my friend to share with his girl, nor does he have any good advice for his daughter either. We both have that same “just say what’s happening and let the chips fall” attitude that’s just not in sync with how teen girls think.

Now teen boys, well, when I was a teen I had some friendships that were variously cool and awkward, and I think my basic strategy was avoidance, now that I think about it. Seems a bit cowardly now, but unlike adulthood, in childhood you’re really stuck seeing that other person every single day whether you’re happy with each other or snarky and tense. So, kinda awkward to accuse them of being less than fabulous or even to intimate it with a poorly phrased sentence or two. Plus it’s the baby and bathwater problem: we hung out a lot and most of the time it was totally fun and cool. Just sometimes it wasn’t. Awkward indeed.

There’s another factor at play too, from what my friend tells me: he has multiple kids, whereas this other girl is an only child to parents who work quite a bit. So my expectation is that the girl is rather lonely and hungry for someone to pay attention to her. Not an excuse, of course, but in terms of understanding what’s going on inside, perhaps useful.

Still, advice.

What should this girl do? If my daughter gets into this situation, what should she do to smoothly improve the interpersonal situation or gently turn towards another friend, hopefully without hurting the girl’s feelings too much?

Sometimes being a single dad means saying “help!” to the women in my life, and if I can help out my friend, that’d be a nice thing. So… HELP!

5 comments on “Teaching a teen to say “no” to her friend

  1. Heya Dave. My daughter went through this. She’d have almost daily conversations with her best friend that went like this:
    MY DAUGHTER: So, you want to get together after school?
    FRIEND: Sure. Let’s go to my house.
    DAUGHTER: We went to your house yesterday, want to go get some coffee?
    FRIEND: Nope. My house.
    DAUGHTER: I’m not sure — should we ask a couple of other girls and see if they want to do something?
    FRIEND: No, you and me, my house.
    DAUGHTER: Seriously, I’m sort of tired of going to your house — what if we try something new?
    FRIEND: No, that’s stupid. Are you my friend or not?
    My daughter saw the manipulation way before she had the nerve to say anything, not surprisingly. She asked me if she should talk to the girl about the general problem (“I love you, but you’re too bossy”). I told her it would be easier for her and easier on the girl if she dealt with one specific situation at a time. So, not long after, the friend did her “We’re going to my house” thing one more time. This time my daughter was ready. The friend said “Here’s what we’re going to do after school” and my daughter was prepared enough to say “I’m going to the coffee shop — you can come for sure, or if you’re busy that’s fine.” The friend was shocked. She put up the usual fight. My daughter found the nerve to walk away and say “I understand you have to stay home and do homework — we’ll get together in a few days.” After she took that stand, the behavior didn’t go away completely but it abated a ton. We can set limits sometimes without calling a total timeout on the relationship — depends on the kids and the situation I guess.

  2. Can I “Like” the post by Liz Ryan on your blog? Great advice. My initial thought was to mirror the behavior — try out treating the “friend” the same way the friend was treating her — and when questioned, say “Based on how you’ve been treating me, I thought that was the way friends are supposed to treat each other. If you don’t like the way this makes you feel, imagine how your saying the same thing made me feel. How about if we sometimes do things your way, sometimes do things my way?”
    In addition, it might help if she tries to also develop other friendships as well. Specifically, developing friends OUTSIDE of school can help if it feels like everyone else is already “taken” with their own clique. Programs that allow kids from different schools to meet each other are great — whether through a religious organization, or library book club, or some other shared interest. Friends at school become less important when you know you still have friends who simply attend a different school.

  3. Hey Dave,
    Awe teen girls, such wonderful creatures. Having had three myself, and the youngest quickly approaching teenhood, I am still baffled by their complexities. However, it sounds like it is the perfect opportunity for this young woman to find her own voice,thoughts and feelings. Expressing herself now will strengthen her resolve and self-esteem.
    Although the friend’s home situation appears to show she has no one to give her proper attention, it doesn’t give her a free pass to dismiss the feelings of others. The girl still needs to learn to respect others, and that she is not the only person in the relationship.
    His daughter discovering how to say no and to express her own views and desires is very valuable at this tender age. The problem will certainly exacerbate if she remains silent. It is crucial to his daughters self worth to speak up.
    The father permitting his daughter to share her true feelings will empower her now, and prepare her for those complicated relationships in the future. It also validates those feelings, and teaches her the importance of being heard in all relationships.
    The daughter cannot be held responsible the other girl’s reaction, so she must be true to herself.
    Recommend she be loving and compassionate, yet firm, and hold her ground when it is truly important. When it’s not important to her, let it go.
    It sounds like the friend is selfish and needs to be taught how to compromise.
    I hope this helps.

  4. Over the years my girl has had the on/ off relationships and we’ve talked about how real friends don’t change their minds like that. At the beginning of this year she was drawn into a group led by one local girl with a reputation for blowing hot and cold. I made one comment at the start of it all and let her go. After a month of sleepovers and hanging out she had to get serious about training for a team event and that curtailed the sleepovers. That alone was enough to cause them to lose interest in her. She was hurt but when I reminded her of the leaders reputation she was mature enough to be able to distance herself from the rejection and see it wasn’t actually because there was omething wrong with her.
    I wouldn’t say its been a harmless experience, she’s a bit sour about the social hierarchy, peer pressure and the price of friendship for one so young but she’s safe and perhaps its all part of growing up.
    Maybe the young lady in your post needs to have a discussion with someone she trusts about “how friends treat friends”. She may find it helpful.

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