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Guest Post: How to handle toxic teen friendships

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By Barbara R. Greenberg, PhD and Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, PsyD

Teens are hard-pressed to know when they should phase out a friendship. As parents, we must admit that we generally want our kids to phase out anyone who hurts their feelings even slightly. Well, we need to meet somewhere in the middle.

STEP#1 is to describe what the building blocks of a good friendship are. They include:

1. reciprocity and mutuality.
2. support and understanding.
3. characterized mostly by fun and pleasure.
4. a sense of INCLUSION-a good friend does not encourage you to give up your other friends and or family.

STEP#2 includes a description of a toxic friendship.These friendships are characterized by:

1. a draining of energy. Beware of "energy vampires."
2. a lack of reciprocity. There is no sense of give and take.
3. one person redirecting all conversations to and about themselves.
4. They deflate you. They don't share your joys and perhaps even enjoy your failures.
5. They put you down.
6. possessiveness and jealousy.
7. competitive and dismissive behavior.
8. They gossip about you.
9. They encourage you to get involved in destructive activities.

So, parents, if you see these things happening within your teens' friendships we do not recommend that you coerce your teens into ending the friendships. If they do, however, ask for your input we recommend that you calmly and nonjudgmentally suggest that they consider phasing out rather than dramatically ending these relationships.

Your teens need to preserve their reputations. Encourage them to behave in a gracious manner so that they are not seen as being mean. They should keep in mind that they may continue to travel in the same social circles. When phasing out friendships there should be no leaking of secrets and information that was learned during the friendship. You do not want your teens to give the impression that they can't be trusted.

And by all means, teach and model gracious behavior in difficult situations. Reputations need to be well-protected!


Barbara R. Greenberg, PhD has a doctorate in clinical psychology from SUNY at Stony Brook. She maintains a full-time private practice in Connecticut where she serves as the Adolescent Consultant for Silver Hill Hospital.

Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, PsyD, has a doctorate in school/clinical child psychology from Pace University. She is the Director of an inpatient adolescent unit at Four Winds Hospital in New York. She is an adjunct professor at Pace University and maintains a private practice in New York.

Drs. Greenberg and Powell-Lunder are the authors of Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual (Adams Media, 2010) and creators of the blog, Talking Teenage.