Girls' friendships and the invisibility factor...
Written by Bethany Kelly on 04/05/2012
Q. My daughter is in Year 7 at an all girls school but since she started she has felt left out. She has not really formed any friendships and is feeling very down. She attends lots of lunch time clubs, is always volunteering in different activities but now she has started doubting herself, saying she feels invisible – it really breaks my heart. Academically she is doing fine, but I am worried it might start to affect her work. In her junior school she had lots of friends and it was never a problem.
A. The move from junior school to senior school is a very difficult and sensitive time. Often girls will have established strong friendships in the higher years in primary school; they will have their routines and know their environment very well. All of these factors should mean that they are confident and comfortable in their school lives. It will then be a jolt to move to an entirely different school, probably much bigger in both campus and number where no established routines or friendship circles will exist. When girls know that they are moving with friends to a senior school much time in their Year 6 will be devoted to securing friendship allegiances in order to ensure a smooth transition from one school to another. This is not something that usually preoccupies boys, but is a common feature of girls’ groupings, who make sure that hierarchies are secure before any move is made. If girls are unable to move with those established friendships then they have to face their worst case scenario of having no friends.
On the whole friendships and school are inextricably linked for girls and therefore if one part is suffering, then so will the other part. If Year 7 begins with no pre-existing friendship groups then girls can immediately feel isolated and disempowered. So the first piece of good news, and I hope it can be seen as that, is that the feelings that your daughter is experiencing are entirely normal and happen a great deal, which means that the teachers will be aware and experienced at dealing with girls with exactly the same feelings. The second piece of good news is that your daughter’s tactics of joining lots of clubs is a very good way of trying to combat those feelings of isolation. In what is often the bigger setting of a Year 7 class it is very easy for a girl to feel ‘invisible’ and the chances are that there are plenty of other girls in that group feeling exactly the same. What is also good news is that her work is not suffering, as some girls do find that their academic studies reflect how they are feeling with their friendships. So at the moment there are some positives firstly, it is entirely normal, particularly for girls in an all-girl environment and so teachers will be used to monitoring and guiding girls in the same position, secondly, joining clubs and activities is a very good response to the situation and thirdly work is not suffering. Of course none of this might be particularly reassuring as it does not solve the problem. So let’s look at some tips to help the current situation.
Your daughter has already made some bright observations and responses to her current situation, so it is worth encouraging this to continue. It is very easy in Year 7 for some alpha females to rule the roost and sometimes it can feel as if you are a nobody if you are not in their friendship circle. Encourage your daughter to tell you about the other girls who attend these clubs and activities and if she starts talking about the loudest members steer her onto those others on the periphery. It could be that your daughter is used to being at the hub of things and therefore hasn’t looked at those on the edges of the groups. You could ask your daughter to write two lists for you, one of the qualities she is looking for in a friend and secondly of what she thinks makes a good friendship. Explain that what is more important is a thoughtful, trustworthy friend than a popular one and perhaps ask her to see next time if there is anybody at these activities who looks more shy than her. It would be very unusual for there not to be other girls feeling exactly the same and it may well be that there are other ‘contingency’ friendships out there, essentially where girls are using the company of others in order to feel secure in the year group. Therefore she should not be put off by girls who appear to have paired off, the chances are that those groupings are flexible enough for others to join. A good way into conversation either with an individual girl or a pair is for her at the activity to compliment, for example, ‘you’re really good at painting’. Something as simple as that can often kick off a conversation that can make a connection possible.
Lastly, it is worth remembering that time has a totally different feeling at school to when you are older. A lunchtime can last a lifetime, a week can be an eternity. It’s tough, but the more you can encourage your daughter to be patient the better. The development of friendships, in particular the elusive best friend is often the main goal for girls in those early years. The friendships chop and change very quickly and so it can make girls feel very vulnerable. Teachers will know that some friendships take longer to develop than others. If you have concerns you should definitely keep the school informed. Sometimes girls are very good at worrying and presenting a confident face to their teacher or tutor, so it’s always best to keep in touch.
It might not be an immediate comfort, but do understand that this situation is very common and one that can change dramatically. Friendships will come and go, begin and end over the next few years. Through this growing up process girls will also come to learn a lot about themselves in relation to others and confidence can grow even through the tricky bits.