How do you end a friendship when you're eleven?
October 9, 2013 10:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm all about the slow fade for friendships that aren't working, but I'm 34 and my daughter is 11. It doesn't work that way in middle school.

My daughter has been friends with this girl since she was in 3rd grade (she's now in 6th, and the other girl is in 7th), but the other girl's behavior has escalated from annoying (IMO) to abusive (in not just my opinion.)

My daughter, B, wants to end her friendship with her former BFF, M. It's come to light recently that M has been treating B in a way that is straight up bullying. M yells at B for such "transgressions" as talking to other people, not spending her money on M at the mall, and needing to get off the phone because B needed to find her inhaler. B is a very responsible latch key kid who is home alone for two hours after school. M knows this, and will call, per our phone records, every three minutes until B picks up the phone. We have already changed B's cell phone number and will change our home phone this week - M has been told by my husband, myself, and B that she cannot call so often, but it continues. Her mother is not at all helpful in controlling M. This girl has made her mother bring her to B's softball games and a yard sale at my mother's house to check up on B's whereabouts (she calls B a liar when B has other plans that don't involve M.)

I have let their school know about the situation, and B and I have talked at length about how to deal with situation, but M will not let go. This is affecting B's school performance because she is so anxious about it, and I don't know what else to do. Talking to M hasn't worked, talking to M's mother hasn't worked, what do we do now?
posted by Ruki to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Your daughter is 11 and this is one of those times when you and your husband need to turn into a pack of insane bears defending your young. You don't tell M she can't call so often, you tell her she cannot call AT ALL. Divert the home phone to your cellphone if necessary, and be prepared to divert your daughter's cell if M gets the number. You tell M's mother that you are cutting off all contact between the girls, and that if she and her daughter magically appear anywhere you are, you will pull your child and immediately leave (and do so). You tell M that your daughter is no longer allowed to talk to her, end of discussion. Because these are not discussions, they are parental proclamations and they don't need to seem reasonable or polite at this point.

In other words, make yourselves the bad guys, and be bad-asses about this.

I have let their school know about the situation

Good. Let her teacher know as well, and be prepared to go in for a meeting with the head of the school if this escalates at school, backed by the records you are keeping of harassment. (I hope the school is able to offer M some support because it sounds like she needs help, but whatever the underlying issue there is, that is not your priority.)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:00 PM on October 9, 2013 [33 favorites]

TBH, this kind of anxiety about abandonment at the age of 11 would make me concerned for M's home life.
posted by empath at 11:08 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Relevant info - M has OCD. We have known this all along, so we have been patient with the constant calling and need for validation. However, I do not believe that her medical condition in any way excuses the way she has escalated her behavior toward B. B spent the past few years defending M on the basis of her medical condition, but no longer feels, and I agree, that this is allowable behavior. I should have included this in my question, but I am thoroughly frazzled and, as this a child, I'm making a conscious effort to be kinder to her than I would an adult who was acting this way.

M's father is not very active in her life, so between that and the OCD, I spent a few years biting my tongue and not interfering with B's choice of friends. In the past few weeks, though, B has shared with me things in their friendship that go beyond my limits of patience. M's home situation and medical condition do not give her leave to make B cry every night.
posted by Ruki at 11:28 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know this is weird, but for the immediate future, can you get another trusted adult (or group of adults) to act as "body guards" for your daughter - while simultaneously - you meet with the school about protecting your daughter and getting help for M.?

This is pretty extreme level bullying/stalking. I know these are pre-teens, yet, I can't help thinking this requires a FULLY adult response.

Were I you, I'd probably get some referrals to an attorney to attend school meetings, just to underline the seriousness of this situation.

I really don't think your child should be home alone any longer. I don't know how you shield her from the drama of all of this, because it would be TRAGIC if your daughter were to feel punished or penalized in any way!

I can't shake the feeling this is creepy and unsafe. I'm really hoping on the surface you can turn this negative into a positive for your child (a closely supervised awesome after
school activity that keeps her safe until you get home?) while behind the scenes, you work like the devil to get this handled.

I might change schools if my child was at risk of bullying during school hours. I dunno.

It sounds like M has previous or ongoing trauma and abuse going on, and she's victimizing your child as a result. It also sounds like discipline isn't working on M, and that's a problem.

Consult an attorney. It's possible M. is in crisis (seems so, right?) and an appropriate response is that a mandated reporter (teacher, therapist, officer or the court) needs to report this child to CPS for intervention.

If I have not been clear, this situation is WELL above your expertise and abilities, and outside resources are required.
posted by jbenben at 11:37 PM on October 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Your responsibility is to protect your daughter. That means blocking M's number and intervening with M, her parents, and the school staff so that it's clear that B should be left alone. M needs help. Bullying your daughter is not helping her at all. If M's mother isn't responsive, alert the school counselor and administrators and let them help coordinate support and help for M.
posted by quince at 11:39 PM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

You can feel bad for M situation - hell, I feel bad for M's situation - but your job is to protect your kid. Block M's phone number and get a new phone number for your house. Be prepared to do that several times.

Talk to the school about situation and let them know there is a zero tolerance for M contacting your daughter. Find an adult supervised after school program for your daughter. Your daughter is still a child and she needs adult back up to block M.

It's not going to be easy on your daughter and it's not going to be easy on M. In the end you're teaching your daughter that she doesn't have to put up with someone manipulation and abuse. That lesson is well worth a bit of fuss.
posted by 26.2 at 12:14 AM on October 10, 2013 [17 favorites]

I saw your update. The fact that M. has underlying mental health issues really really underscores that this situation requires professional intervention. The escalation in M.'s unhealthy tendencies focusing on your vulnerable daughter is a clear signal M. is a pre-teen in crisis, and that your daughter's safety (emotional and maybe otherwise) is at stake.

In case you are worried about bringing professional intervention into the situation, allow me to offer this perspective...

M. needs help, and you are doing her future self a huge favor if you send up flares on her behalf.

A qualified therapist can help guide you in shielding your daughter from any guilt or fallout.

Don't be afraid to engage an attorney if the school district doesn't respond responsibly. It's possible you need a legal consultation simply to help you frame to the school how serious this situation is before you approach them again, just so that their response is adequate this time.

You're not bad parents because this happened. It is what it is. Sadly, M.'s problems have put your family at risk and signal that M. requires an intervention. Go ahead and follow through.

If simply changing your phone numbers would help, you could leave it at that. But it sounds like this troubled young girl has waaaay too much unfettered acces to your daughter during school and at other times, on a daily basis.

Circle the wagons and call in the professionals qualified to help.

So sorry you have to deal with this.
posted by jbenben at 12:16 AM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think you shhould also have someone in the house with your daughter after school, especially if she is crying nightly with anxiety.
posted by bquarters at 3:06 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

jbenben has got it.

Here's my similar story: When Kinetic 3 (now 15yo boy) was around 12, I thought he had a nice group of friends, a very sweet female best friend and a decent social life.

And one day I got a call from his best friend Ashley's dad. Now, I was used to chatting with other moms to plan things but a call from a dad was unusual. And I was like, "Hey Ashley's dad; what's up?" I found out that Kinetic 3 had been calling Ashley pretty much every three minutes for hours every day after school and that times when I had driven Kinetic 3 to basketball or the ice rink, he was there "checking up" on Ashley. He described what Kinetic 3 was doing and it's exactly what your daughter's friend is doing. Kinetic 3 was a creepy stalker. My own son.

I was floored. I had no idea my kid was doing that. So I got Kinetic 3 to a psychiatrist and a therapist and he was diagnosed with OCD which can get really bad as kids go through puberty.

What I'm saying is that even though I'm a friggin special education teacher who works with high schoolers who have emotional disabilities, I didn't see it in my own kid.

I needed another parent to tell me what was going on.

So I suggest three things:

1. Talk to M's mom one more time. Couch it in terms of how much you care for her daughter, but her daughter appears to be in a very bad place and is behaving in a worrisome way. Because chances are, her mom doesn't see the whole picture. It'll be a delicate conversation, but when Ashley's dad said, "We love your son but he's stalking my daughter and we will need to take legal steps to stop this, and I think he may have OCD," that got my attention.

2. Talk to the school if only to put on their radar that M could be a child in crisis (the bad thought OCD will probably get MUCH WORSE without treatment) and yes, you're also concerned for your own kid. When Kinetic 3's school found out about the OCD and his behavior, they were amazing at finding him placement in a program for kids with these issues. I'm not saying this will happen in your case, but it's nice of you to mark their card, so to speak.

3. Talk to your daughter! It can be very sad and traumatic to be on the receiving end of this type of attention and your daughter is probably wondering what she could do to get her "normal" friend back and fix everything.

Chances are that with a very serious talk to the other mom, some good may come from this. And you seem like a very caring parent who wants to do the right thing. I'm sorry your family is going through this.
posted by kinetic at 3:11 AM on October 10, 2013 [49 favorites]

And...if after the talk the behavior continues, then I'd be prepared to move my daughter to another school. It sucks but you gotta do what you gotta do to get her away from this kid.
posted by kinetic at 3:17 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Man, I'd ride the school on this one all the way in addition to calling the mom. You should be able to block her number on your daughter's phone with your service provider (for texting and calls), I'd do it. I've done it myself in the past to my own kids. I'd answer the house phone instead of your daughter or at least have her check the number before she answers. Her OCD is no excuse for the school not to take action. I'd speak to my kid's teacher(s), her guidance councilor, the principal, etc.. I'd ask that they be kept away from each other during class and esp. during lunch. Does your school have a resource officer? Try them as well. Or you can speak to the police dept. Most police dept. now have an officer who deals with kids and bullying.

In the meantime for your daughter, I'd encourage her to invite new friends over. I'd try to get her involved in new activities, sports or whatever. The fact that M is older and has no friends in her own grade is esp. worrying. Most middle school kids have friends in their own grade - they tend to be very peer orientated and she should not be attaching herself so strongly to your daughter.

Get your daughter to a therapist so she discuss her fears without you around.

Above all be proactive, IMO middle school are the hardest years and added to her situation is a friend who is a bully. You need to really step up your game.
posted by lasamana at 4:30 AM on October 10, 2013

When you change your home phone number make sure the message is just something like "You have reached 867-5309. Please leave a message and we'll get back to you." No identifying names. Same with your daughter's cell.

It may also help to hire a local college student to come hang out with your daughter and deal with any calls that get through by picking up, asking who is speaking, and saying to this girl "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number."

This of course does not counter the time when your daughter may see this girl in school. And since they are in different grade levels there may not be much you can do short of reporting the girl's behavior to the school or switching schools.

One thing that might help in the meantime is encouraging your daughter to keep busy with other things. There's nothing better to have on hand than a valid reason not to hang out with someone who is being mean. "I enjoy your company M. At the same time, I have been really busy with schoolwork/sports/etc" If that same neutral message is relayed ad infinitum, it might drive the point home that she is not an easy target to pick on due to her busy schedule. Bonus points that this technique will help later with people your daughter doesn't want to date.
posted by donut_princess at 5:19 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would summarize your concerns in writing -- to the school, to M's mother.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:28 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Comment deleted. Guys, we need to be able to provide advice to the OP without insulting or slurring the other child.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:22 AM on October 10, 2013

This is a delicate situation. M doesn't want to be this way and losing B is fulfilling her worst fears.

For now, block her number on the house phone and your daughter's cell phone. Speak to M's parents about your concern about M's fixation on B and ask them to work with you to not feed into it (no more appearances at sport events or yard sales.)

Ask B how much contact she wants with M. If it's none, that's her decision, she may still want to see M here and there, and if that's the case, perhaps you can supervise a trip to the mall or a movie or something like that.

It would be mean for B to make a big scene at school, or to exclude M without explaining what's going on. Perhaps M's parents can help explain that her behavior is inappropriate and that a separation for the time being is the correct way of going forward.

I sincerely hope that M's parents will re-evaluate her current therapies, because her OCD is NOT well controlled right now and it is seriously impacting her life.

Keep in contact with the school and with M's parents. Let B know that she can decide who she wants to be friends with and that you'll support her decisions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:50 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may wish to consider the advice given by Gavin de Becker in The Gift of Fear about phone stalking, which is to keep your original phone number, but hook up an answering machine to it which you or someone you trust can periodically review to see if M is making threats or continuing to call, but to get a new phone number and only give the new phone number out to trusted friends and family. If you block her, M may just find another phone to use to call it, and if the number is disconnected, she may try to find the new one.
posted by alphanerd at 6:56 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I assume, with all this phone-ringing, that you've changed the ringtone for every phone M might call from to be silent on B's cell? Even after B gets a new phone, not having to make the conscious decision not to answer it will be a huge help. Just keeping the phone from ringing is a good start.
posted by aimedwander at 7:13 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh man, I feel for you and your daughter on this. All good advice above. Have you also considered getting some counseling for your daughter? It may help her to talk to someone to help her with the anxiety (and possibly guilt she might be feeling). Does your daughter have some new friends that she can starting hanging out with? I also came in to recommend finding a super nice teenager who could come over and stay with her afterschool--or another afterschool place or activity with lots of other kids.
posted by biscuits at 12:18 PM on October 10, 2013

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