QUESTION: My 12-year-old son has been friends with another boy of the same age for the past three years. They both live on the same street and get along extremely well when they are alone together.
However, when they are in a group with their other peers, my son’s friend constantly talks about him behind his back and deliberately excludes him from group games, whispering or pointing at him and laughing.
Other members of the group then tell my son what his friend has been saying, such as “He says he only uses you for when he is bored or has nobody else” or “He doesn’t want you at his birthday party, but he has to ask you”. How can I help my son to handle this?
I’m concerned that all of this is knocking his confidence and his ability to make other friendships, and I feel he worries that nobody likes him.
I tried talking to his friend’s mOm, but she told me that she felt it was a case of my son being too sensitive.
We were new to the area three years ago, but his friend has lived here all his life.
ANSWER: Negotiating friendships is hard. It is made all the harder when, as you describe, it appears your friends are not really very friendly at all.
Certainly, if the reports are true, then your son’s neighbouring friend is being disingenuous when he pretends to be friendly.
From what you have witnessed, this boy seems genuinely to enjoy your son’s company.
They get on well when they are together and seem to share interests and have fun together.
This neighbouring boy, however, seems to worry about his social standing when in a larger group.
For whatever reason, he seems to feel he can increase his social standing by rejecting your son when in company with others.
He may worry that it would not be cool for him to appear to be good friends with your son.
Ironically, although this boy may like your son, his apparent insecurity in the bigger group means he needs to “big himself up” by being down on your son.
All of which, while maybe explicable, is quite unpleasant since your son has to bear the brunt, not just of the rejection but of betrayal by this boy. I would not be surprised to hear that your son’s confidence may be being knocked by the two-faced behaviour of his friend.
What I do wonder, though, is what evidence you have that your son’s confidence is being affected. You say you worry he may feel that “nobody likes him”, but has he actually said this?
Has he ever had a situation before where he has felt excluded or rejected by a friend?
I can understand your own concern that he may be treated badly by this other boy, but your son may not necessarily be bothered by the situation.
If he is bothered, then confiding in you is a good start. It is also the case that he needs to take some action to address what is happening.
He could challenge his friend about his behaviour. He could talk to him and name what is being reported to him – that this boy is only pretending to like him – and see how his friend reacts.
If he acknowledges his behaviour and apologises and changes, all is well.
If he denies rejecting your son (but the evidence from everyone else is that this is what is happening) then it is unlikely that he will change his behaviour.
If this is the case, then it seems to me that their friendship is not really a true friendship, and your son would definitely be better off without him.
If the other boy doesn’t see or accept how hurtful he is being, then he is not a friend at all.
Much as he might miss the social contact, I think your son may be better off not arranging to hang out with this boy on the road.
Practically, though, it may not be easy for your son to disassociate himself entirely from the boy because they have other mutual friends in common.
Does your son feel accepted by the rest of the group of peers? The fact that they are telling your son about this boy’s behaviour means they care enough about your son that they don’t want him to, unknowingly, be the butt of this other boy’s cruelty.
If your son can recognise this, then he could look to strengthen some of his friendships with those boys and girls.
This might reassure him that people do like him and do want to be proper friends with him. This will, hopefully, add to your son’s sense of being likable.
Feeling likeable is a significant part of having good self-esteem.
As long as your son feels that you understand him and his predicament, you should also be able to reassure him that there is nothing wrong with him.
If you need to, then remind him that this other boy is not rejecting him because there is anything wrong with your son; he is rejecting him because the boy himself feels insecure.
In this way, you can support him by reminding him that he is a good person and that the other boy is the one with problems.
Painful though the whole experience may be for your son, he stands a good chance of coming out the other side of it more confident and not less confident, as he realises that he is not dependent on this other boy and that he can make choices about who he is friendly with. – Irish Independent