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I have a middle schooler who is a nice but very introverted kid. She's smart, never gets in trouble at school, is nice to the kids who don't have a lot of friends, and is generous. Because of her shyness she can come across as impolite sometimes and has only a small number of friends.

Anyway, she's had a best friend at school for the past two years, and they get along great. But yesterday, my daughter told me that her friend said that the friend's parent thinks my daughter is a "bad influence" and that she hopes their friendship will come to an end. My daughter really didn't understand why. I don't know if there's more to the story, but my daughter thinks it may be because she has a smartphone (the other child's parent is opposed to smartphones for middle schoolers) and as I said she can come across as impolite at times.

My daughter has very hurt feelings over this, and she is worried about losing one of the few friends she has. She's also concerned because this other parent works at the school, and now she feels uncomfortable around the parent. My daughter is also worried that this parent might say something to some of the teachers at the school about my daughter not being a good kid, which could give the teachers a bad impression of her.

I don't know what I can do about the situation, or if there's even anything I can do. I doubt speaking to the parent would do any good and might make things worse. So I am inclined not to do anything other than not allow my daughter to use her smartphone around this friend, and encourage her to make efforts to be more polite.

Any useful advice would be welcome!

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    I'm wondering if the interpersonal skills SE might have better advice on dealing with the other parent. Not that this is off-topic here. Sep 14, 2023 at 10:15
  • @PaulJohnson If the response to the question is to talk to the other parent thatn interpersonal skills might be a better fit but as the question is now, I wouldn't conclude that. Talking with your own or the other child might be good approaches as well.
    – quarague
    Sep 18, 2023 at 9:26
  • I'm struggling to see how shyness = impoliteness. Is she unwilling to talk to other people or only answers with minimal words, or is it something else? Sep 18, 2023 at 10:32

2 Answers 2

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This is essentially a game of telephone right now. You don't know what the friend's parent actually said or meant, you just know how you interpreted what your daughter interpreted what her friend interpreted what her parent said. If you have a good relationship with the other girl's parent, reach out to her directly. If not, it might be worth taking some time to get to know her, given how important her daughter is in your daughter's life.

In terms of your daughter--middle school is a volatile age for all kids, and friendships often get made and broken, with all the heartbreak that implies. You can't entirely protect her from that. My own daughter's friend group has shifted sharply, twice, during her middle school years, and with a suddenness that left me bewildered. Something that helped her, I think, weather it, was that she read a number of books and graphic novels about teen girl friend groups, and broken friendships were the theme of each and every one. So it didn't come as surprise to her, and she didn't take it personally.

It's not clear from this story if the issue is just with the parent, or if the child feels differently. And although we might wonder why the child felt the need to pass her parent's comments along, at this point, the best strategy is just to not take it too much to heart, to continue that friendship as long as it seems positive, and to diversify her friend group where possible. Does she have hobbies or interests that might allow her to socialize outside of school? If not, this might be a good time to develop some.

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Now is a great opportunity to introduce your daughter to the 10 cognitive distortions. They are an amazing tool for anyone, but especially people who have anxious tendencies or are worried about something.

This introduces the fact that our brain can lie to us. We think something is true, but we don't know it for sure. For example, Mind-Reading tells us that we don't actually know why this parent thinks she's a bad influence, or to what extent. Was this a statement made in passing, or did the mom actually sit down with her daughter and say 'stop seeing your friend'? Maybe this was a big miscommunication?

And even if she did that doesn't actually make your daughter a bad influence. just because someone else says she's a bad influence, doesn't mean she is. She can evaluate her own actions and decide if she's a bad influence or not. She can write down a list of all the ways she's a good friend and a good influence to her friend.

Fortune telling is attempting to predict what will happen in the future. She doesn't know if they'll tell the other teachers, and even if she does, surely your daughter's teachers will already know what she's like and that she's a good kid.

If your daughter's shyness is influencing her relationships to the extent she comes off as impolite, It may be worth her seeing a counsellor. This may seem extreme, but my own daughter has the same issue. She has had selective mutism for years, and will freeze up in some social situations. This can come across as rude because she will literally not reply or get out of the situation as fast as she can. Seeing a play therapist has helped her gain confidence and has helped to equip her socially. Getting advice from a professional who is not a family member can really help at this age, especially when parents become 'uncool'.

This is a really difficult situation for your daughter to navigate on her own, but she may not necessarily want or need you to interfere, which is why a 3rd party can be really helpful. She could also attempt to get more information from her friend about why exactly she's considered a bad influence without assuming, but that may not necessarily be helpful (or accurate).

I don't know if her school has this, but if there is any way to get to know the other parent in a group social setting (where lots of parents are getting together, etc), it may be worth it just as an opportunity to get to know her friend's mom. My daughter's school has sports events/concerts/etc where the parents end up all together in one place, and just meeting the mom may help a bit.

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