Crafting Healthy Friendships at Every Stage in Life with Expert Jessica Speer

IAOL 21 | Healthy Friendships

Healthy friendships are food for the soul. Indeed, the best relationships are rooted in mutual kindness, honesty, and respect. With loneliness at epidemic levels, it’s all the more important for us to know how to cultivate loving, healthy friendships. We often think that great friendships “just happen,” but, like every truly wonderful relationship, solid friendships require effort and tender loving care. Dr. Carla is joined by friendship expert Jessica Speer for a warmhearted exploration into loneliness, toxic friendships, and the keys to crafting healthy friendships from childhood and middle school through later life.

Books by Dr. Carla Manly: 

Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly 

Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend  

Aging Joyfully: A Woman’s Guide to Optimal Health, Relationships, and Fulfillment for Her 50s and Beyond 

The Joy of Imperfect Love: The Art of Creating Healthy, Securely Attached Relationships 

Books by Jessica Speer:

BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl’s Guide to Happy Friendships

Middle School―Safety Goggles Advised: Exploring the Weird Stuff from Gossip to Grades, Cliques to Crushes, and Popularity to Peer Pressure

The Phone Book: Stay Safe, Be Smart, and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand

Connect with Dr. Carla Manly: 









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Crafting Healthy Friendships at Every Stage in Life with Expert Jessica Speer

Discover the Keys to Building Awesome Friendships from Childhood Through Later Life

Healthy friendships are food for the soul. Indeed, the best of relationships are rooted in genuine friendship. With loneliness at epidemic levels, it’s all the more important for us to know how to cultivate loving healthy friendships. We often think that great relationships just happen but like every truly wonderful relationship, solid friendships require effort and tender loving care.

In this episode, we’ll focus on this reader’s real-life question, “My daughter is in middle school. She’s struggling with making friends. I don’t know how to help her because I’ve never been particularly good at making friends myself. I’d appreciate any tips you can offer.”

IAOL 21 | Healthy Friendships

In this episode, I’m joined by a very special guest, Jessica Speer, who will be sharing her expertise on creating and sustaining healthy friendships. Welcome to the show, Jessica. It’s so good to see you.

It is so great to see you, Dr. Carla. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to chat with you all about friendship.

I know that such a focus of your work is about helping people differentiate between healthy friendships and unhealthy friendships. You’ve written books on the topic. They are books that help us understand the concept from grade school forward. It will be wonderful to use that as a way to answer this reader’s real-life question about how her friendship issues are impeding her ability to support her daughter in creating healthy friendships. Before we launch into that topic, would you please share a little bit about what makes you, you?

Discover how to build healthy friendships and let go of toxic ones! From learning tips to support your children's friendship capacities to crafting friendships in your adult world, Dr. Carla and friendship expert Jessica Speer dive into the amazing… Share on X

At this stage, I’m writing books for pre-teens and early teens all about their social-emotional development. Friendships are so important in our lives to both our physical well-being and mental well-being. As you like to focus on, it is sharing our love. I love to focus on that, especially with younger people. I’m driven to help all humans, including myself, learn how to connect.

You talk about social-emotional development. Let’s explore that a little bit. Please tell us more about social-emotional development and why it’s so important.

This will tie into the question that we’re talking about. All of us, over the course of our lives, are learning these skills that are social-emotional skills. We are learning how to navigate our emotions and manage our emotions in healthy ways. We’re learning how to interact with people, cooperate, share, listen, and support each other. These are all skills that we are learning over time at our own pace. There’s a lot going on, especially in childhood, pre-teen, and early teen years that will impact friendships too. We can dive into more on that too because that will help this mom as she guides her child.

There's a lot going on, especially in childhood and the pre-teen and early teen years, that impacts friendships. Share on X

A question for you is when we’re learning friendship skills, in your opinion, do they start in the home, playground, or elementary school? Where do you see these skills begin to accrue?

They start when we’re little tiny babies and toddlers at home with all of our caregivers. We’re picking up things all the time. We’re picking up how people are treating us, whether our needs are being met and we’re being listened to. We start to model that in our relationships too. It starts very early at home and then it branches out from there. Elementary school and preschool turn into a training ground for social-emotional learning too.

For parents who are perhaps not modeling attuned healthy behaviors, maybe they had a childhood of being bullied or not being seen or attuned to by their parents, will these parents maybe have a more difficult time helping their kids learn about friendship and forming their friendships?

Healthy friendships are good for the soul! No matter your age, healthy friendships are a vital component of solid mental health and well-being. Join Dr. Carla and expert Jessica Speer to discover the keys to spotting toxic friendships and crafting… Share on X

Our kids are going to pick up what we’re modeling for them. The good news is it’s never too late. If you notice that maybe you have a deficit in a certain area, maybe you have a hard time staying focused and listening to the person you’re talking to, you can work on that and then start to model that with your kids.

As a parent, my biggest area of personal growth happened when I became a parent. I knew how important it was for me to be modeling and working with my kids in ways that help them build positive skills, confidence, and self-esteem. I did that not at all perfectly but it’s a great opportunity to learn and grow. Parents, don’t worry. If you’ve not done this perfectly, it’s okay. This is the perfect day to start again and begin because we’re all learning and growing.

I so love that you bring it up. As parents and role models, even if we’re not parents, we can hope to do well and keep trying but we don’t get it perfectly. That’s the nature of life. What are a few core skills that this mom or all of us could be using to feel like we’re okay at forming friendships and we can do this? It’s scary to go out, put yourself out there, and try to form friends. We can get to the part about what happens when you form a friendship that’s not healthy but let’s start with the platform of forming healthy friendships. What are some of the key pieces that we can work on?

I talk about in my book some friendship truths. I feel like for this particular parent and her question, I want to talk about some of the friendship truths. Sometimes, we start there and it might not necessarily be a skill-related thing. It could be something happening in our environment or some developmental phase that is impacting our relationship.

One of the friendship truths that I talk about is friendships have different phases and change over time. It could be a situation here where her child is in a situation where there are a lot of changes going on in friendship. In middle school, that is common. That is a huge developmental shift. In elementary school, relationships are very much based on play and proximity.

There’s a big shift that happens. It happens at a different point for every child once they start to get into the middle school years where friendships are more based on shared interests and levels of acceptance. It’s no surprise that middle school is filled with friendship changes. Kids are at very different developmental phases and they might be looking for different things in friendships. I would want this mom to know that it could be one of these shifts that’s happening in their child’s life. There’s a shift going on and that is normal. Friendship truth number one is friendships have different phases and change over time.

Another truth is that close friends can be hard to find. It sounds like this child is feeling like they don’t have any close friends. That feels uncomfortable, especially in these preteen and teen years when kids want to be connecting with their peers. As we know as adults, it can sometimes be hard to find close friends, especially in some of these developmental changes and phases. I would start there. I took you in a different direction but for this particular question, I want to make sure we understand the lay of the land of what might be happening with this child at this developmental phase of their life.

I love both points because they help us understand, even for adults who move to a different area or they’re leaving college. It’s about getting into situational friendships. It was like you were saying. In early school, it’s the situation and then you start choosing your friends. It is for her to realize maybe you’re not in the same playgroup or class but you get to choose people where there are common interests.

The other piece that I love that you highlighted because it will feel so good to so many people, whether they are pre-teens, teens, or adults, is that good friends are hard to find. Sometimes, we see other people and they have 20 friends, 80 friends, or 3,000 friends. Those may not be close friends. They are more of acquaintances. Please let me know your thoughts on this. Sometimes, we’re lucky if we have 1, 2, 3, or 4 truly great friends in our life.

I agree 100%. I’ve got a resource in my book, which is available anywhere if you search Jessica Speer Friendship Pyramid, that I find is so helpful for young people. At the very tip of the pyramid are close friends. It’s small because we know that it’s hard to find them. It takes a lot of connection and shared interests. Levels of trust are built. We know that they’re hard to find. In the pre-teen or early teen years, we might have some gaps there. That is normal.

Underneath that on the Friendship Pyramid is friends, which I use loosely because a lot of preteens and teens use it loosely too. These could be neighbors or classmates. They’re people who know you that you have some connection with. That’s also important too. You never know. Some of those friends might grow into close friends over time. The base of the pyramid is acquaintances. It is all those people that we don’t know yet but there are a lot of possible friends out there.

I like to state it in that way and emphasize that close friends are sometimes hard to find. It feels uncomfortable, especially for young people if they don’t feel like they have that. They’re looking around and it looks like everybody has a close friend. That’s not always the case. Let’s face it. We all do friendship a little differently. Some of us are more extroverted and we might have a small close friend group. Some of us are much more extroverted.

Even how we manage our friendships and navigate this world is different. I would encourage this mom and her child to know that what she’s experiencing is normal and okay. They can do some things about it too but it’s normal in those middle school, pre-teen, and early teen years to feel like, “Where do I fit? Who are my friends?” That is a natural thing that happens in those years.

I love your pyramid. We’re using shapes. I tend to work with shapes. We have that close circle. It is 1 circle that has maybe 4 people in it. If our brains can’t handle a whole lot, as far as very close people, the next circle might be a little less intimate or a lot less intimate. That might be another five people. We go out into all these different circles. The bigger the circle, the more people there are but the more distant they are from us intimately and emotionally because we can’t sustain all of those friendships.

We think of people who have 5,000 Facebook friends and think, “They have 5,000 friends.” Those are more of acquaintances. They may have 5,000 acquaintances and they may not even know what somebody looks like who they’re calling a friend. Thank you. I love the idea of your pyramid. Readers, look for her Friendship Pyramid. You said something that I love. It was a piece about trust. Good friendships are built on trust. Please tell us more about why that’s so important for the mom, her child, and all of us to have friendships that we can trust each other.

IAOL 21 | Healthy Friendships

You shared it so well when you said our closest friends are the ones that we can share some personal, intimate information with because we do have that level of trust with them. Not every relationship does. Here’s where it gets tricky in middle school. Kids are looking for that closeness. They want to be seen and known in their friendships because they’re starting to individuate from their families.

IAOL 21 | Healthy Friendships

Often, those friendships are so young and maybe the skills aren’t there so they might share something before that friendship has developed that level of trust. That’s where a lot of people’s bad middle school memories come from. They’re looking for that closeness in a relationship and it’s not there. There’s betrayal in friendships.

It can feel like an unstable place for friendship because everybody is trying to figure out, “Who are my people? Where do I fit?” They want that to happen. They do want that connection with their peers, especially at this age but sometimes, those relationships aren’t there yet for various reasons. It can be a tricky time in a time when kids do want to be connecting at a deeper level with their peers.

What would you say to someone that they don’t know who they are? Maybe they realize they’re more artsy and creative or their personality is different from those around them. What would you say to that child who is still working on finding themselves because that’s part of the journey but also, they’re not seeing anyone around them who will accept them? It’s that click barrier. You want that connection and you’re drawn toward that connection but you’re not finding your tribe or people.

Some kids and teens don’t find that at school. I wish they all did. Some kids that are especially unique, let’s say are neurodiverse, super smart and into certain things, or very artistic. They’re unique in a certain way and maybe they’re not finding that in their school setting. What I encourage parents to do is see how they can connect this child to that even outside of school. Is it classes? Is it engaging in some sport or some way that they can tap into what it is that excites them that they’re passionate about? There is where they’re likely going to meet people who have that connection too.

In this age group, they are looking for similarities and shared interests. We as parents can help them find that connection and it might not be at school. Keep your eyes out. There are ways to connect them with those things that they love and they’re passionate about. They’re then more likely to meet some like-minded people.

We as parents can help our kids find that connection, and it might not be at school. So keep your eyes out for ways to connect them with the things that they love and are passionate about, and then they're more likely to meet some like-minded… Share on X

That makes so much sense. Let’s say you are interested in soccer, ballet, or musical instruments. You are going to a class and you may meet someone in your school that has been walking by and you didn’t know that you shared that interest. Maybe you’ll meet someone who’s in a neighboring school. You won’t have somebody to be within the school setting but then, you’ll have somebody to be with after school. It’s such a good and basic tip but a good one.

I can only imagine this mom who is suffering because she’s not able to help her daughter. What about if the daughter is feeling lonely at school because she is still in that wonky stage where she’s trying to find her people? She isn’t yet finding them in classes outside of school or settings outside of school. What could this child do? There are so many of them who are going around the school day feeling so lonely and cast out. As one of my clients said when she was talking about her childhood, “I always felt like the other.” What would you say?

I would first maybe check in with what’s going on at the school. Some schools, knowing that there are some kids who are feeling like this, have opportunities that we might not know about as parents. For instance, at a local school here, instead of going into this lunchroom, which for a lot of kids can feel intimidating, they also have a smaller setting of kids that don’t want to be part of that. They want a smaller, quiet setting that might have some board games out. Some teachers allow kids to come into their classroom and maybe do some special work for them.

I would figure out whether there is another option. Lunchtime is often the time when it feels the worst and when you are feeling lonely. You walk into that big lunchroom. See if there’s something else. If there’s not, can that be started? Why doesn’t every school have some other options besides the big scary lunchroom? A lot of middle schools are progressing where they have something. This might be an opportunity to help the middle school have some other options, whether it’s in the library or a few teachers’ classrooms. Those are some options so those kids don’t have to walk into that library or lunchroom all by themselves.

That’s such a good idea. I didn’t think that there were other options where kids could go and there, they may find like-minded souls. Those are people who like playing card games, Monopoly, or whatever it is that they want to do. They are building friendships, not in the traditional way that we think of, like sharing lunch with someone out in the quad or the lunchroom but in a more private setting, one that would probably be a lot better for introverts.

A lot of schools are doing this. I’m excited to see that. See if that can be started at the school if that’s not happening yet.

I love that you came up with that idea too. If it’s not there, see about starting it. Let’s not get complacent. Let’s see about being advocates for our kids to create situations where they can bloom and grow. That’s excellent. Let’s segue if you don’t mind. She doesn’t talk about it but I imagine many people face bullying and unhealthy friendships.

I love that one of your books talks about differentiating between people who are best friends and people who aren’t friends. First, talk a little bit about that book because it’s a fabulous book. It’s educational for parents and kids of all ages because it helps us understand how to differentiate between a healthy friendship and something that doesn’t even qualify to be called a friendship.

My first book was called BFF or NRF? It’s Not Really Friends. I made up that term. That one grew out of a friendship program that I did run for girls. I talk about bullying as opposed to conflict. I feel like this is such an important concept for kids to know that I continue that in my second book, which is called Middle School: Safety Goggles Advised. In my newest book, The Phone Book, I talk about it again too. I feel like we all have to know what is bullying and what to do to stop that.

Let’s start with what is bullying. It can be in person and online with cyberbullying too. How we know a situation is bullying is it’s pretty aggressive. It doesn’t have to be physical. It’s pretty mean. There are threats. It’s one-sided. It’s directed at one person. It may be an individual or a group. It is directed at one person and is repeated. It is those three things. It is pretty aggressive and mean. It is one-sided and happens again and again. That falls into bullying and that needs to stop. Often, there might be some adult intervention that needs to happen there. Schools have rules in place to help guide in this situation.

How that might differ from a conflict situation, which is even more common than bullying, is both sides are involved a little bit. It could still be pretty mean and aggressive but it might not go on as much. It might be a short fight that lasts for a little bit but then, it goes away. That’s how we know the difference between conflict and bullying. If it is a bullying situation, it is important to get the kids the support they need to navigate that and make that stop. We all know how detrimental it can be to their well-being and mental health if they’re in a bullying situation.

Thank you for the clarification. I do have one question on bullying. I know you said it’s happening again and again. Is it possible from your framework for somebody to be bullied once and then say, “This is bullying. I’m going to my school counselor, the principal, or my parents.”

It can. Sometimes, that falls into assault. I hate to say that. It might be something that is so physical and aggressive that is a situation of assault. There’s that too. It can. Repeated bullying is often the most painful for kids. For those who are the target of bullying, that is going on and on because they start to question their self-worth. That’s where we see a lot of the mental health impacts of bullying. It can be a one-time event and possibly an assault.

Repeated bullying is often the most painful for kids because they start to question their own self-worth. Share on X

I start getting a little bit angry when I think of kids being bullied. I had a prior career as a teacher and a school counselor. Seeing kids get bullied where sometimes it’s physical, people tend to take more notice of that like, “I got punched. I have a black and blue mark on my cheek from this,” but it’s the emotional bullying or that mental and psychological torture that can be extremely damaging and more subtle.

Sometimes, parents aren’t aware of it. They see their kids struggling to make friends. The school setting can be very busy and not notice these more subtle forms of bullying. When we’re talking about bullying, and this is going back to this mom’s question so that she could keep an eye out for any bullying behaviors, and the little kiddo is saying, “Mom, I’m having trouble making friends,” what if she’s also being bullied? How could a parent spot that?

Sometimes, when they’re pre-teens and teens, they might not want to tell us what’s happening at school. We can notice some cues. Notice if they’re starting to have a lot of stomach aches and feel sick and not wanting to go to school. Also, it is approaching it with a lot of curiosity. It is staying open-minded and asking, “Tell me about what’s going on at school so I get a better understanding. Do you have any friendships that feel good? What are those like? What are the friendships that don’t feel good? Tell me why. Tell me what’s happening there.”

You are trying to open the door of communication to get a better sense of what’s happening on the ground because the younger the kids are, might have a hard time, 1) Knowing what’s going on, and 2) Putting words to that. Come at this with a lot of curiosity and a lot of questions that are not judgmental. Try to understand their world and then be prepared to listen. Try not to react right away to what they tell us. Listen and empathize with them. Often, the best thing we could say to kids is, “That sounds hard. I’m so sorry that happened. That’s so hard.” Coming at this with a lot of compassion and empathy will help them feel seen in this too.

That’s a perfect explanation. It is so beautiful that you emphasize that sometimes, what the child wants to know is that we get it and we say, “I’m sorry. That sounds rough. Would you like to tell me some more?” Be okay if there’s silence. Sometimes, when we create that space of silence when we’re making dinner or driving the car and we let it go silent, the little kiddo comes up or the big kiddo comes up with something more that they’re ready to share that can be bigger. That’s excellent. It’s interesting.

Let’s jump to the mom. The mom is sending a signal through her question that maybe she has struggled with friendships. Since she does, she can’t see how to help her kids clearly, which is so common with all of us. Sometimes, we can’t see what’s going on right in front of us because of our issues or lack of awareness.

We can see that some of these patterns probably play out in adulthood where there are friendships where adults are getting bullied by their friends or getting betrayed by their friends. If we are not working through those issues, do you think that it could probably impact our ability to help our child or ourselves?

It can. This is a great opportunity for the mom if she feels like maybe she’s still struggling in these areas to get some help. It is not just help for her but get some guidance as to how she can help her kids navigate this too. It’s a great opportunity for her to learn and grow, and then to learn how to help her child navigate this too.

I love that your books are so approachable. I can envision this mom reading the book not to her daughter but with her daughter and even saying, “I’m not the world’s best friendship creator so I’m going to learn along with you. I’m going to be here with you on this journey. I’ll be able to support you better. Can we read this together or read a book about friendship together?” If I’m hearing you right, cultivating healthy friendships is a skill.

It takes effort. This can be hard for those of us who are much more introverted. We might prefer to say, “No, thank you. We don’t want to go to that event.” It does take coming out of our shell, learning how to be friendly, and learning how to follow up and connect. It is a skill that takes practice. You’re right. Parents can learn this alongside their kids. I do try to make my books conversation starters. The first book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends), starts with a quiz. How healthy is my friendship? The second chapter is another quiz. How are my friendship skills?

What I’ve heard time and time again is the parents that do that with their kids, that’s a starting point for conversation because they can acknowledge, “I’m not good at this and I’m still not good at this.” They can be open about that too. We’re all learning and changing. When we’re honest with our kids about ourselves too, and what we’re working on, where we hope to be, and what we want to get better at, that allows them the same path to do that for themselves.

We're all learning and changing. When we're honest with our kids about ourselves and what we're working on, where we hope to be, and what we want to get better at, that allows them to do the same for themselves. Share on X

I love the way you are approaching it because it gives the parents permission also to not take their friendship issues out on their kids if they’re struggling but for their child to see that they’re not perfect and that even the important adults in their lives struggle too. That makes it so much easier sometimes for kids to realize, “Mommy doesn’t have all the answers. She’s not perfect.” That’s so empowering for kids.

It is to know that many of their peers are struggling too. That book grew out of a friendship program. One of the best pieces of that program was the kids in the program could look around and see, “It’s not just me.” That’s huge. When they don’t realize that other people are experiencing this too, they might start to think, “Something is wrong with me,” but there’s not.

Everybody is navigating this in the best way they can. Some people have certain strengths. Some people have certain weaknesses. As long as they know that they are not alone and know you are going through this, or your peers are going through this, which a lot of this is normal, especially for that age range, they’re going to hopefully stay away from, “There is something wrong with me.”

That’s such wonderful advice. I’m going back to the mom. I’m a firm believer that the stronger the mom, the more centered the mom and dad, or not just the parents but the caregivers, the more they’ll be able to be healthy, grounded role models for their kiddos. It’s interesting. I used to run a huge women’s group. Friendship and romantic relationships were the two most common issues.

Adults would come and say in the group, “I can’t find friends. I’m 40, 50, or 30. No one will let me into their friend group.” Everybody already has friendship groups formed at this time. A lot of the advice that you’re offering is the same support I would give them that sometimes, you have to look in different areas and understand friendship and all of that.

For this mom and any adult out there who’s reading who says, “I don’t have solid friendships either,” that’s so normal. In this disconnected world, as you’re saying for the kiddos, it’s normal for them. It’s unfortunate. We want to work through it and help them create healthy friendships. For the mom as well, she may be feeling like, “I’m broken. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t even know how to do my friendships.” She’s realizing how it’s a struggle for so many people regardless of their age.

Sometimes, when you’re into something, whether it be parenting, writing a book, or whatever it is, it is easy to let those relationships go by the wayside. It’s a matter of self-care to realize, “I’m letting this piece go away but I do want to have some close friends.” We can check back in or figure out, “How can I reconnect? I still do have a core group of friends that feel close.” That takes energy. If I stop communicating with my friends, those relationships suffer. We have to somehow find balance in our lives so that we can do that.

If we’re starting from zero, which sometimes we do, maybe we move to a new place or we have a falling out, as we talked about earlier for kids, it might be time for us to get out. We might need to go volunteer at our favorite nonprofit or we might need to go start a book club. You’re getting back to, “This is how we do this.” I’ve done it myself. I’ve put other priorities in my life and I’ve let some of my friendships start to wane until I realized that’s happening.

It is so human. It’s so true. Friendships and relationships take energy. Sometimes, when we’re busy or maxed out in other areas, we forget that we need to also feed our friendships with lots of TLC even in little doses. If we don’t have a lot to give, we can give little doses. There is one more thing before we wrap up. I could keep going into this topic with you. What are some of the biggest ones you see as, “Pay attention to these?” True friends show friendship. They don’t use the word. They show it. What would you say are some of those big pieces to be on the lookout for?

These have been defined on the same page as the Friendship Pyramid. These are some of my Not Really Friend traits. 1) You feel uncomfortable being yourself. That means you feel like you can’t share who you are with this person. 2) Maybe they are friends sometimes but other times, they’re not at all a friend. It doesn’t feel very consistent. 3) It doesn’t feel emotionally safe to share your deeper emotions and thoughts. Let’s leave it at that. A lot of it goes with how we feel after spending time with that friend.

Sometimes, after we spend time with that friend, we feel worse. How I know if this is a wonderful friendship is after we go for our walk together, I feel energized, seen, and heard. “This relationship is so great for my soul.” If we have the opposite effect after spending time with that friend, we know that maybe this is a Not Really Friend situation. It’s not healthy for us, which is always tricky. Those are some key indicators if a friendship is not really a friendship.

I couldn’t think of a better way for you to sum things up. We know if they’re not letting us be ourselves, they’re not a true friend. If they’re not consistently predictable at showing up as a good friend, they are not a good friend. If we don’t feel emotionally safe, they are not a good friend. Those are excellent pieces. On the opposite side, the big umbrella is if you feel like the relationship is good for your soul, which doesn’t mean it’s perfect but overarchingly good for your soul, you can work through things that come up. You can be your real self. If the person is trustworthy, honest, and safe, and you can share with them, that is a good friend.

For younger people, since they are developing these skills, they might not have a lot of friends that fall into that close friend and all those wonderful things. These are new friendships. They’re young people. They’re making mistakes. That is hard. They might not have that. That is why I put a lot of emphasis on “friends” because they’re not perfect. If we realize everybody’s growing and changing, some of these friends in these pre-teen or teen years might change as these kids learn and grow.

That doesn’t mean you have to try to be close friends with them or there might need to be some boundaries in place. What we described as those close friendships is there are not a lot of very young friendships that have all of those, which is why those middle school years can feel unsettling to a lot of kids. They don’t have those skills yet but they’re longing for them. What’s cool to see, and I’ve got some kids in high school, is how they get there, grow, and learn to be good friends, which is a process that happens over time.

I love that you said that it’s a process and there are skills. If your kiddo is having trouble building friendships, have them look for these skills. Nurture these skills. Maybe even ask their friends to come forward a little bit. The friend could even read a book about friendship with them so they could cultivate healthy skills. It’s so important for us to realize that friendship truly is a skill. Those are solid friendships, not the kind of, “Let’s go out and have a drink together.” That’s fine. You can talk about superficial things. That’s somebody to be with or some companionship but a true friend, you do have to cultivate and nurture these skills throughout life.

Sometimes, there are changes and it’s not a fit anymore. I see this a lot in middle school. If someone is farther along developmentally and maybe they’re way into crushes and then someone isn’t, that could be such a big disconnect. That could cause a fault in that friendship. Maybe somebody is starting to do some risk-taking behavior and it’s making the other person in the friendship uncomfortable.

Understand that sometimes, there are relationships that aren’t a great fit for this stage where you are in your life. Even if it was a great fit earlier, it might not be a great fit now. By listening to our kids if they’re starting to get the sense of, “This relationship doesn’t feel great anymore,” it might be that too. It might be the fit at this stage where they are.

Understand that sometimes there are relationships that just aren't a great fit for this stage of your life, even if they were a great fit earlier. Share on X

Many of the pieces you’re talking about apply to adulthood too. This is for the audience to realize even if they don’t have kids and maybe they have a niece or nephew that a lot of these principles apply to adult friendships, especially the one about no matter the relationship, it’s going to take some effort and some TLC. Jessica, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, time, and energy. Where can the audience find you?

The easiest place is my website, That has links to my socials. I’ve got resources on my website and information about my books. It was such a joy to chat with you. Thank you for all the amazing work you are doing, helping all of us learn to connect better and learn to love better.

Imperfectly but we keep trying because we’re human. Thanks again and take good care.

Important Links

About Jessica Speer

IAOL 21 | Healthy FriendshipsJessica Speer has a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences and a knack for writing about complex topics in ways that connect with children and adults. She regularly contributes to media outlets on content related to kids, parenting, friendship, and social-emotional learning. Jessica Speer is the highly acclaimed author of books for kids and teens, including The Phone Book – Stay Safe, Be Smart, and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand. She is also the author of the award-winning, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, both of which grew out of her work with kids. Blending social science, stories, and fun activities, her writing unpacks tricky stuff that surfaces during childhood and adolescence. For more information, visit
“A true friend you leaves you saying, ‘This relationship is good for my soul.'” (Please take care with the punctuation here.) If you’re not using quote marks for the full sentence, use this version:
A true friend leaves you saying, “This relationship is good for my soul.”