Pre-teen children and friendships


Girls putting on nail polishFriendships are crucial to children, because pre-teen behaviour is all about separation - from you. Growing up means becoming independent, and to become independent children have to separate from the people who brought them into the world and who, until now, have done everything for them (and we all know who those people are).

The seismic separation will happen down the line, when your children hit adolescence; right now, they're practising. They're trying to work out how they'll be different from us, their parents, by watching teenagers, and figuring out that adolesecence is when you make the big break. This is the limbering up.

Friendships are crucial to separating from parents - they give a child space to be different from their parents, and confidantes from outside their home with whom to share secrets and events.

This is especially true for girls, and for them it tends to happen earlier. From around Year 3 in primary, your daughter will start to be aware of who's 'cool' and who's not. Later, the 'cool groups' will start to emerge - and with that comes an increasing awareness for your child about where she fits in the all-important hierarchy of popularity. This is a life-changing time: it's about establishing an identity, a 'who am I?'. 

Why pre-teen children worry about friendships

One of the biggest fears for teenagers is that they'll be friendless, and the enormity of friendship is becoming clear to preteens - so, increasingly, at this stage children experience huge anxiety and unhappiness if friendships start to go wrong.

The Mumsnet Talk boards are sagging with stories from worried parents who describe seeing previously sunny children eaten up with sadness when things don't work out with friends, or when they feel themselves being edged out of a friendship group.

But the first thing to realise, and to try to get across to your pre-teen, is that at some stage or another every other child feels like this, too. One Mumsnetter posted about finding a letter from her 11-year-old daughter saying that she felt she didn't belong, that she only had a few friends and that she felt she was out on her own. Another Mumsnetter replied: "Don't all kids of that age feel the same?"

Transition from primary to secondary school

This is the time when friendships become a real issue for pre-teens. Their primary school friendships were established long ago, before they became so crucial, and although there may well have been issues in the later years of primary, all that pales into insignificance compared with the shift that happens from Year 6 to Year 7.

The move to a new school is likely to mean your child being split up from not only individual friends they have had for a long time, but from established patterns of friendship, and from knowing how people are likely to behave.

Remember how alone you felt in the school canteen when you were 11 and had just moved up to big school? How you felt like everyone else had friends, and you were the only one who didn't? 

How to help your pre-teen with friendships

The fact that we weren't the only ones who felt alone in the school canteen way back when is still true for your pre-teen today. The important thing to do is to make them realise that that's how it is for everyone - and to encourage new friendships.

Strategies Mumsnetters recommend to encourage new friendships

  • Suggest your pre-teen invites a new friend, or friends, round to your house, or suggest they meet up outside school to go shopping or to the cinema together
  • Suggest your child joins some lunchtime or after-school clubs
  • Suggest her or she looks out for other people who look as lonely/lost/worried as they feel. Often, pre-teens focus solely on the more social, 'cool' kids and can forget to look at the margins of the groups for other people like them - and they miss out
  • Remind your child that what matters in a friend is someone you feel good about being with, someone you can trust, and someone you can have fun with. Being top of the 'popular' list isn't a prerequisite. The irony is that any real friendship will end up being the envy of the most 'popular' people - some of whom won't be anything like as secure as they might appear

Pre-teen dating

On the Pre-teen Talk boards, most Mumsnetters say their pre-teens aren't interesting in 'dating' yet - (whatever that would mean for an under-13).

Some say they feel that where pre-teens appear to be interested in the opposite sex, it's more a figment of the parent's imagination and there's unlikely to be more than friendship at the root of it.

What Mumsnetters think about pre-teens and friendship

  • I work in a Year 5 class, and I can quite categorically say that in the last four years not one of the girls has been interested in boys in that way, and none of the boys has been interested in girls. SandStorm
  • The key for a pre-teen is to be friendly, helpful and sociable with a wide variety of people, have outside interests and not to stick too closely to one or two friends, but to have lots of people they'd like to spend time with. CeliaFate
  • My daughter's nearly 11 and her mates are 'going out' with boys. I think she's too scared and doesn't want to admit to liking anyone as she still wants to be a little girl. Long may it continue! CeliaFate


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Last updated: about 3 years ago