THE BLOG

Best Friends and Bullying: Are they Cousins?

09/25/2012 05:31 pm ET | Updated Nov 25, 2012
  • Barbara Greenberg Clinical Psychologist featured on CNN, Good Morning America and ABC Nightline

Are we really doing our teen daughters a favor by encouraging them to have a best friend? Yes, we all need friends and confidantes -- those incredible people who get us, are attuned to us and know when we feel crappy even when we are smiling. But why, I would like to know, do so many parents feel good and even a sense of relief when their teen daughter can name a single best friend -- a feat similar to pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Perhaps parents feel that this means that their daughters will never have to worry about being lonely, that she is happy in school and and that she is POPULAR.

Well, let me tell you what the teen girls have told me. Many of them have experienced a lot of negative fall-out from having a best friend. They often feel suffocated. They figure out ways to circumvent running into this best friend at every turn so that they can socialize with others without a jealous set of eyes looking at them. They may want to make additional friends or travel among other social circles but there looming large in the background is the best friend. The best friend may be less than happy about your daughter's attempt to branch out, so this may lead to tension. I'll tell you what else it may lead to. It may lead to girl on girl bullying. You see, your daughter or the friend may not know how to speak directly and honestly about their feelings. So what do they do? They often resort, sadly, to indirect means of communicating with each other.

This is where girl bullying is at risk to enter the gloomy picture. Want to lose a best friend? Not sure how to tell her directly that you want to cool down the friendship? Go ahead and tell her how you feel. I am convinced that a great deal of girl-on-girl and women-on-women bullying would be significantly less likely to occur if we taught our daughters two things: that they don't need to have a best friend and that they should express their feelings directly and kindly. Somehow we put so much emphasis on girls and their social relationships that we forget to teach them when to speak their feelings to their friends. Instead, they are more comfortable with avoidance, gossip and other indirect means of dealing with friends and peers.

Do your daughters a favor and start teaching them that expressing feelings directly is a lot more effective, authentic and honest than spreading a rumor or freezing a friend out. Perhaps this will serve them well and teen friendships will be a lot less fraught with drama because the messages between girls will be clearer. And, maybe by the time your daughters enter the workplace, relationships will be a whole lot easier for them. We all know that workplace bullying occurs between women. We certainly don't want that for our daughters, now do we? So let's put some passion into teaching our daughters about the direct communication of emotions so that they don't need to spend hours and sometimes even entire nights wondering why their friends are whispering about them.

As a woman, mother and a psychologist, I, too am guilty of this sort of neglect but no more. I can tell you that. There is too much at stake here.