Friendship and falling out via text - should we get involved?
Written by Nicola Botterill on 15/06/2012
Q. My daughter(13) spends a lot of time texting with all her friends. A situation has arisen whereby she is texting with another girl and a boy who are family friends. I hear from the girl’s Mum (who is a good friend of mine) that there is some kind of argument going on between the girls that is causing her daughter some distress. I have tried to speak to my daughter, but she says it’s all sorted out and no big deal. I’ve tried sneaking a look at the text messages but she usually locks the phone or deletes the message history. As parents, should we back off and let them sort it out themselves or get involved for the sake of everyone’s friendships? I want to respect her privacy but am concerned that things could get out of hand without them knowing how to deal with it…
A. Although you want your daughter and her friends never to have any problems, and for life to be as smooth and happy as possible, you are right, you can’t solve their friendship problems for them. They need to sort things out themselves, mainly so they learn the life skills involved in nurturing and maintaining healthy relationships – knowing when and how to apologise, to forgive, to be assertive and stand their ground, and so on. You can, however, give advice about how to handle difficult situations, and you can talk through scenarios that may have happened to family and friends, which will give a frame of reference for your daughter if she is experiencing problems.You can also provide the safe ground on which she practices saying difficult things, when and if she has to. It sounds, however, as though your friend’s daughter may be the one who is most unhappy with the situation at the moment.
When you are having one of your chats with your daughter (over the washing up or in the car are good places for this sort of conversation), without ‘accusing her’, make sure she is aware in general terms that sending texts which are hurtful is not on, that deleted messages can be retrieved by the phone company, and that people have landed themselves in real difficulty from cyberbullying someone else. Although bullying is not a specific criminal offence in UK law, criminal and civil laws can apply in terms of, for example, harassment or threatening behaviour, and particularly relevant for cyberbullying – threatening and menacing communications. There is some useful information available from sites such as CEOP’s thinkuknow website. Telling her the story of someone who has had difficulties and what happened is quite powerful, and you should also make sure she knows what to do if she is a victim of cyberbullying, including keeping the evidence and reporting it.
You could also speak to her school and find out what specific guidance has been given to her and when. What is in their programme to cover issues like this? And share your concerns with her Head of Year or Housemistress. You can also, of course, institute your own guidance on how much time she is able to spend on her phone. After all, I presume you bought the phone for her, and so there are certain norms you can expect her to conform to quite openly, without needing to sneak a look, however tempting it might be. Also, although they are increasingly useful learning tools, having phone free time is important for studying and concentration, and equally for good sleep. You will always find teenagers saying ‘but everyone else is allowed to ….’ and this is generally not the case.
Staying close to her friends’ parents is important so you can decide the rules of engagement together. What can be difficult, but still important, is for you and your friend to discuss your approach together and if possible agree that any difficulties between the girls shouldn’t have to affect your relationship. In fact this will give the girls a very clear message; as a parent you give the strongest guidance to her in how you deal with relationships and difficulties yourself, and she has absorbed this as she has grown up, and will continue to do so.