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Teaching Our Kids The Difference Between Friends, Frenemies & Everyone Else

teaching your kids the difference between friends and frenemies

As my youngest gets settled into 8th-grade this year, I am more convinced than ever that junior high is the seventh level of Hell.

I think it was created in the fires of Hades by Lucifer himself.  

Part of the reason I feel this way is that junior high seems to be the age when insecurity erupts, awkwardness prevails, and the masses are all out to get one another. Each student is convinced they are alone in the "piranha pit" dealing with how out-of-sorts they are. ("Mom, I'm the ONLY ONE who's going through this!")

This perception of being the only one, of course, translates into a continuous amount of “friend drama.” One day two kids are besties and the next they are spreading lies.

One of our many roles as parents is to help our kids navigate friendship, acquaintances, frenemies, enemies and bullies during these years. The first step is to help our kids know the difference.

Teaching Our Kids The Difference Between Friends and Frenemies (& Everyone Else)

Review the following list with your pre-teens/teens to help them understand that not all relationships are created equal, and how to keep the good ones while brushing off the bad ones.

1. Who Are Our Friends?

Our friends are a small pool of people who are always “safe.” You may have disagreements but they always have your back and your best interests at heart. They will make sure you have a seat at lunch when all the spaces are taken and will notice on the days when you aren’t quite yourself. Friends celebrate and cry with you. They never ask you to do things you aren’t comfortable with and they want you to succeed no matter what.

Choose friends at school wisely.

2. Who Are Our Acquaintances?

In junior high and high school you need a lot of acquaintances. These are the people in class who you can tell a joke to or say "hi" to in the hall. They make you feel included and like someone knows your name, and they are the ones in a class who make the effort to offer you a pencil when yours breaks. You may not consider these people friends but they are not far away.

Parent note: Sometimes our shy children have a hard time finding these people. Also, our children need to HAVE acquaintances and BE them as well. There are kids in their school who feel isolated and alone. Some days they just need some kindness. We can teach our kids to stop and help someone when their papers drop or offer paper when they are out.

3. Who Are Our Frenemies?

This made-up word can seem like a joke; however, frenemies do exist. These are people who pose as your friend and yet really aren't. They're not safe. They abandon you in your time of need and talk about you poorly when you aren’t around. They will ask you to put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable.

Parent note: One of the greatest lessons we can teach our kids is how to recognize when someone is not really a friend but actually a frenemy. These kids can be toxic in our children’s lives, but appear to have a candy coating. Talk with your kids and find out if some friends aren’t really friends at all.

4. Who Are Our Enemies?

Enemies are not necessarily bullies but instead are the kids that you either just “don’t like,” or more accurately don’t like you. They do not bully but instead just make you roll your eyes when they come near.

Parent note: It’s important to teach our kids they don’t have to like everyone, but they do need to treat everyone with respect. Teach them how to navigate those they don’t get along with. Can they avoid them? Simply sit on the other side of the room from them? Can they kill them with kindness when these kids give them the stink eye? Help them know how to properly interact with people that rub them the wrong way.

5. Who Are Bullies?

Often times we incorrectly define this group of kids. Not every frenemy or enemy is a bully. Someone who you don’t like much may not be making your life miserable. Bullies create an ongoing situation where you feel threatened or unsafe. This is not someone who tells you that your pimples are ugly one day. This is the person who laughs in your face obnoxiously about your pimples every single day to the point when you don’t want to go to school anymore.

Parent note: In a day and age of bully prevention, we need to help our kids see who are truly bullies and even if they may be one themselves. Help your child be on the lookout for bullies and make sure that you get involved if they encounter one. Never be afraid to go to the school and see if classes can be changed.


Relationships at school can be hard for our kids (seventh level, remember?) but covering these different types of friends (or otherwise) can help them to make sense of the social terrain. The results are kids who begin learning at a young age how to discern truly quality relationships (a lifelong skill), and maybe, just maybe, reduce the friend drama.

We won't speak of the boy/girlfriend drama. That's an entirely different level of Hell...

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