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Prevent bullying through positive peer relationships. Our bullying solutions book,  Bullying – What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, is used by many families, schools, and youth organizations for their anti-bullying activities.

Many adults, teens, and children feel sad, mad, or hurt when peers they care about are sometimes friendly and sometimes unkind. It can be especially confusing for young people when they realize that someone was acting friendly in order to get their way – and that their actual intent was to get something or even to cause harm.

No matter how old or young you are, people who deliberately use the trappings of friendship to get you to lower your boundaries and do what they want can break your heart.

Someone who smiles, says kind things, does nice things , and seems funny might be enjoyable to be with – and, friendly behavior by itself does not make someone a trustworthy friend.

At the same time, having misunderstandings and crossing boundaries are normal communication problems in important relationships. Also, people and friendships change. Friendships that worked for a while sometimes stop working.

The reality is that some mistakes are probably unavoidable. You have to be willing to take some risks in order to get to know someone well enough to decide what you want your relationship to be.

To tell the difference between someone acting friendly and someone behaving in truly friendly ways, be aware of what they do not just part of the time, but all of the time – not just with you, but with everyone.

These six questions can help adults, teens, and kids decide whether or not people are acting like real friends:

1. Do they do things that are important to both of you and respect your wishes about doing things differently?

Notice and take action if people run hot and cold – acting glad to see you when they want something from you or want to do something with you, but getting mad and saying you are a bad friend if you want to do something else or be with someone else.

2. Do they encourage you to do things that are in your best interests?

Notice and take action if people try to use your feelings of friendship to pressure you into wasting your time or money, breaking rules, getting into trouble, doing something dangerous, or hurting someone else.

3. Do they speak and act respectfully towards you no matter who else is around?

Notice and take action if people sometimes make unkind jokes or ignore you in order to be popular with others.

4. Do they try to tell the truth, apologize for mistakes, and keep commitments most of the time?

Notice and take action if people blame others for their mistakes, lie, and break promises over and over.

5. Do they treat others with kindness and respect??

Notice and take action if people are cruel to some people – or act nice to their faces and mean behind their backs? Remember that what someone does to someone else, sooner or later, they are very likely to do to you.

6. Are they willing to work problems out?

Notice and take action if people ignore problems and then explode or act ready to give up on the friendship as soon as there is a disagreement or something goes wrong.

The bottom line is that we all deserve to have healthy relationships in our lives and that healthy relationships take work. Often, we need to speak up about what we do and don’t want in ways that are clear and respectful and to persist in setting boundaries if someone acts negatively at first.

If we can’t work things out, we might need to make other choices. No matter how friendly someone acts and no matter how much we might like to be with them, we need to decide whether they are behaving in a way that is going to make our lives better or worse.

Depending on the situation, here are some choices about how to take action if you decide someone you often enjoy is often not acting like a good friend:

1. Speak up about the problem in a clear, respectful way.

People often don’t see the impact of their behavior on others unless it’s pointed out to them. You can’t know what will happen unless you communicate clearly and respectfully that someone’s behavior is not okay with you. For example, you might use the Kidpower Boundary Bridge Technique say something like, “I really enjoy being with you, and I feel uncomfortable when you make putdown remarks about other people. Please try to avoid hurtful remarks, even as a joke.”

Because most of us don’t like being told what to do, it is normal for people to react negatively at first when someone sets a boundary. Be prepared to persist with positive responses if someone doesn’t listen or gets upset at first when you speak up. Use the Fullpower Boundaries Personal Practice and Kidpower Shorts Episode 8: Managing Negative Reactions to Boundaries to prepare yourself – and to help young people build skills to deal with friendship challenges in their lives.

2. Become unavailable.

You can decide to avoid people who keep hurting your feelings and pay attention to someone else. Our Ten Kidpower Emotional Safety Skills for All Ages can help you find techniques that work well for your situation. Instead of spending your time keeping on trying to make someone like you and act like a true friend, you can use that time to get to know someone new. Many shy people do not act that friendly at first, but, once you get to know them, are interesting, fun friends.

3. Pick and choose.

Many people are great to be with at some times and best to avoid at other times. Use your awareness and find something else to do if you see warning signs that someone is going to be hurtful – instead of just wishing that this person would act differently. You can decide when to be with someone and when to get space from them – physically, emotionally, and – if the behavior is happening online, get space digitally, such as by logging out.

4. End the friendship.

Sometimes, the only way to end a friendship is to tell yourself that the friendship is over. You can care about someone but decide that you cannot count on them to speak and act in ways that are emotionally safe. Usually, just being unavailable works, especially if you’ve tried to solve the problem and that didn’t work. Once in a while, you might need to say something like, “I really appreciate the fun times we’ve had, but I’ve decided that it won’t work for me to stay friends with you. I wish you very well and hope for the best for you, but won’t be spending time with you any more.”

Strong, true friendships make life rich and joyful. They give lasting memories, provide strength and comfort during difficult times, and help both friends to grow and to have fun. They deserve time, attention, and effort. However, that effort should help everyone grow stronger and closer. We can help young people build strong, meaningful friendships by making healthy decisions about who our own friends are and by encouraging them to choose — and to tend — their own friendships kindly and thoughtfully.

Additional Resources:
Speaking Up About Putdowns
Teenpower Boundaries
Triggers, Emotional Attacks, and Emotional Safety Techniques
Social Aggression and Relational Aggression

For more information about Kidpower’s resources for teaching these People Safety Skills and concepts, please visit our online Library (free community membership) and our RelationSafe™ Bookstore.

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Published: March 9, 2012   |   Last Updated: July 29, 2021

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.

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