Friendship Red Flags · ep. 51 · 10 for Teens + Tweens

A red flag waves against a blue sky

In just the last couple of weeks I’ve had multiple girls message me about their friendship struggles. Usually you can put out small friendship fires (like we discussed in episode 12). But sometimes small fires can grow out of control.

You may have heard the term “red flag” used as a warning to point out a problem or danger, either literally or figuratively. In the US we get Red Flag Warnings from the National Weather Service if there’s a higher risk for fire danger, like high temps + dry season + winds. So connecting that with friendship fires, I want to talk about red flag warnings to watch for in friendships so you don’t get caught in a blaze.

Friendship Red Flags:

  • Your friend frequently puts you down to try to put them on top. They may even say, “Just kidding!” or “I’m just being honest!” to make it seem okay.
  • Your friend keeps leaving you out, not inviting or including you, or only hangs out with you when other friends are busy.
  • After you tell your good news (or even bad news) your friend always has a comment to one-up or out-do you.
  • Your friend often talks about you behind your back. When you bring it up, they focus on what other people said, not their part in it.
  • Whenever you make plans with your friend, things almost always get canceled because of your friend’s excuses.
  • You share personal details with your friend, trusting them to keep it private, but you keep finding out that other people know those things, too.
  • This friend only shows interest in you when they want something, like juicy details or test answers or favors.
  • You are the only one putting effort into this friendship, like keeping in touch, inviting, or making plans. They don’t reciprocate or give back, they only take.
  • Your friend bosses you around excessively–like what you wear, who you’re friends with or who you like, what your plans are–trying to control your life.
  • Conversations end up centered around your friend, either bragging about themselves or fishing for compliments and validation.
  • When your friend borrows your stuff–clothes, jewelry, books, money, makeup–they return it in worse condition, lose it, or just never return it.
  • Your friend often gets upset at your achievements, like when you do well in school, sports, or performances.
  • Whenever you spend time with your friend, you don’t feel great afterward, you feel drained, or you don’t feel like yourself.
  • Your friend always tells you their problems but won’t listen to yours.
  • You feel like you always have to please your friend or prove yourself to earn their friendship.

Toxic Friendships

Now I understand that no one is a perfect friend 100% of the time, we’ve all likely done at least one of those things before. But if these situations happen frequently within your friendship, that’s what makes it a red flag. And those red flags signal it’s a toxic friendship.

Sidenote: There are certain situations that even if it only happens once it still raises a red flag. If this friend ever pressures or forces you to do anything that is physically, emotionally, or mentally harmful to yourself or anyone else, that’s an automatic red flag.

Toxic friends can be self-centered, dishonest, cruel, and jealous. They try to manipulate and control others, or blame anyone else except themselves. Toxic friendships are drama, they’re stressful, and they make you feel bad about yourself. And no genuine friendship should compromise your mental health.

What to do about Friendship Red Flags

So what do you do when you notice a Friendship Red Flag? You’ve got a few options.

First, I think it’s important to talk to that friend and let them know how you feel. Try to use “I” statements, like, “I feel really sad because I keep getting left out.” If you have to include some details about the situation, try to stick to the facts and the friend’s behavior instead of using labels. For example, instead of saying, “You’re a liar!” you could say, “You told me you were grounded but then you hung out without me.” See the difference? It’ll encourage that friend to be less defensive and more understanding.

Also, state your boundaries. We’d like to assume friends already know how we want to be treated (like with respect) but saying your boundaries outloud leaves no room for misunderstanding. “It’s not okay with me when friends … talk behind my back,” or “… share something I said in private.” You can add, “I need to trust that my name is safe with you.” Your boundaries are yours, and if this friend keeps crossing them, you’ll need to put up a stronger boundary with them.

Taking a break from that friendship for several days or more can help you get the space you need to process the situation. And I mean no texting, mute on social media, if other friends bring them up just say you’re trying to figure things out and change the subject. See how you feel after spending time with other friends or doing other activities without that friend. You need time and distance.

Maybe you’ve heard that Tiktok or Reels sound, “See that toxic person? We’re walking the other way.” And honestly, it’s not wrong. Even after sharing your feelings or taking a break with this friend, you can’t make them change if they don’t want to. You are only in control of yourself. Sometimes you have to go your separate ways. When you decide to, you may feel relief or freedom from this toxic friend. But if this friendship was once positive and meaningful, it can be tough to break it off. I personally know how hard this is, so I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You might miss them, it may be awkward for a bit, you could feel lonely especially if it cuts you off from other friends. But you’ve gotta do what’s right for you, what’s best for your mental health, and the sooner the better. You can make stronger positive friendships with others. I believe that.

To help you with this, I created a “Friendship Red Flag Worksheet” for you to print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember to write in it, practice it, and believe in it — that’s the important part.

Download the worksheet and print it out. Write in the Friendship Red Flags that stick out most to you so you remember to watch for them, then color the flags.

And if you have a topic suggestion, I’d love to hear from you! Send an email (tweens get the OK from your parents) to [email protected] .

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