Bullying and cyberbullying are often at the forefront of the media and our children need to navigate the world differently from the way we did when we were young. The very existence of the internet and the ability for contact between classmates to occur 24/7, often out of sight of their parents, presents new challenges when navigating the delicate space of childhood and adolescent friendships. In the place of genuine friendships, where each supports the other and trust is built, frenemies and fake friends have become more prevalent. Fake friends are self-centred and use others to meet their needs. It is important that children learn how to distinguish between real friends and fake ones because being associated with a fake friend often results in heartache and being bullied.
Sherri Gordon provides some advice on the characteristics of fake friends and what parents can do to support their children in building healthy, rewarding relationships.
Fake friends are selfish. Typically, a fake friend will contact your child only when they want something. Be sure your child knows that if a friend is not contacting them just to chat, then that person is not really a friend at all.
Fake friends thrive on gossip and drama. Stress to your children that if someone enjoys gossiping about others, then they may be gossiping behind your child’s back as well. Children should avoid friendships with people who thrive on gossip.
Fake friends require you to pretend. The hallmark of a healthy friendship is that you can be yourself. If your child has to talk or dress differently in order to fit in, then those people are not true friends. They are probably part of a clique instead of a group of friends. Fake friends also resort to negative peer pressure, which often leads to bullying, ostracising and other forms of relational aggression.
Fake friends lie. Often, fake friends do not feel good about who they are so they lie about their accomplishments, their grades, their clothes, their possessions – anything to make themselves look better. And if they lie about themselves, they will lie about your child too. Be sure your child knows that if they catch a friend in multiple lies, it’s probably not a healthy friendship.
Fake friends are critical. Real friends are supportive and encouraging, but fake friends relentlessly criticise. Girls, in particular, can be critical about weight. This type of bullying is particularly dangerous because it can lead to eating disorders or self-harming behaviour.
Fake friends are not happy when you succeed. If your children’s friends always have something unpleasant to say when they succeed, then they are not real friends. Real friends celebrate one another’s success.
Fake friends are not trustworthy. Good friends keep one another’s secrets. If your child’s friend is always spilling the beans, then it’s time to consider whether that is a healthy relationship.
Fake friends rarely have your back. Real friends stick up for one another, especially when faced with bullying. A fake friend will either be a quiet bystander to the bullying or may even take part in the bullying. Your child should start looking for another group of friends.
If your child's friendships allow them to freely express who they are, build their confidence and support them, they are well on the way to being their best self and able to face any challenge.
Mrs Jo Matherson