How can we teach our girls to be more discerning about relationships? I understand that girls are more relational than boys, but sometimes I worry that my two "tween" daughters are over the top and out of control in this area. Honestly, they soak up new "friendships" like a sponge, seemingly without any discernment or intentionality. Is this normal for young girls? Should I be concerned?
You don't need to be overly concerned. What you're describing is perfectly normal. Girls at this age are more relational than boys, and they do tend to "soak up friendships like a sponge." This aspect of their development can be compared to the onset of puberty in boys. It's something that happens whether parents like it or not, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. You should, however, be prepared to guide and moderate it appropriately as necessary.
There's obviously a good side to this female penchant for forming interpersonal connections. We suggest you begin by looking for opportunities to help your daughters cultivate it in positive ways. Teach them to be kind, inclusive, and welcoming to those who aren't part of their immediate circle of friends. Emphasize the Golden Rule – "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Impress upon them the importance of keeping a compassionate eye out for girls who have been marginalized by the "popular crowd." Remind them that thoughtful, caring people are nicer to be around. Encourage them to choose friends of solid character. Help them understand that anyone who wants to be exclusive probably doesn't fall into that category.
Meanwhile, if you have a sense that that there are some pitfalls associated with the strong social proclivities of pre-teen girls, your suspicions are right on target. Just ask any elementary or middle-school teacher – you'll probably get an earful about how cruel and catty female "tweens" can be. Tell your daughters to beware of any girl who wants to "own" them or who tries to assert an exclusive right to their loyalties. Show them that true friendship is liberating and open-ended, not demanding or binding. You should also warn them about the dangers of cliquishness and the meanness of character it tends to foster. There's nothing wrong with having a group of special friends, but it shouldn't be allowed to become an elite and impenetrable "inner circle." As long as it remains "porous" – open to outsiders and newcomers – a group of this kind can provide girls with lots of opportunities for healthy and enriching social interaction.
Finally, if your daughters are struggling with relational issues, let them know that you're always available to talk and that you'd love to help them work through any questions they may have. And if you need help figuring out what to say to them, call us. You can speak with our staff of trained and licensed Christian therapists for a free consultation.
Developing Friendships That Last