A Letter to My Teenage Niece on Unhealthy Friendships
Why are teen and preteen friendships so hard sometimes? Especially with girls. I know young girls who insist on remaining in unhealthy friendships that aren’t good for them. They stay friends with people who hurt them on a regular basis, over and over. Hey, I’ve BEEN that girl! Sadly, this wasn’t just as a teen either!
I currently know a few young girls who are struggling with healthy boundaries in friendships. My precious niece has given me permission to publish a letter of advice and perspective to her in hopes that others may benefit in their own friendships as well.
Dear sweet niece,
I’m so sorry that you’ve been having a hard time in some of your friendships lately. It breaks my heart to see you get hurt. Sometimes I wish I could let a few of those girls have a piece of my mind. On the other hand, there are times when I want to scream at you too for letting them treat you this way! Then I remember that I’ve been where you stand, even in my adult years. So, I get it.
But why do we continue to endure these harm-inflicting relationships? It’s because we don’t want to be alone. We’d rather be with people who, deep inside, we know aren’t good for us, than to fathom the pangs of loneliness. The problem is…we’re still lonely.
I mentioned a quote in a blog post that I wrote a while back… “There’s only one thing worse than being single and lonely. It’s being married and lonely.” The quote referenced being married versus being single. However, this can pertain to unhealthy friendships too. Just like marriage doesn’t exempt us from feelings of loneliness, neither do friendships. Booker T. Washington once said, “Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
I’d like to give you a little bit of advice from my perspective about what I’ve learned and what God has shown me about some unhealthy friendships.
First, you deserve better. God loves you dearly, and He wants the best for you. He hurts to see you hurt. Quite honestly, He paid a very high price for you (1 Corinthians 6:20). This makes you extremely valuable (I wrote about that before too 😉 ). Valuable things shouldn’t be treated carelessly, which is how some of your friends have been treating you.
What I tell my own kids about unhealthy friendships…
I’ll tell you the same thing I told my kids when some kids at school were being mean to them. It’s something that God showed me. I informed them that they shouldn’t let people treat them like trash or like they are worthless. They are very expensive because someone paid a very high price for them—Jesus. I remind them that they are very valuable, and we are supposed to take care of valuable items. People don’t just discard valuable items or treat them haphazardly. We cherish and treasure valuable items. We handle them carefully, and you don’t let irresponsible people have their way with them.
I give them an example of buying them an expensive toy. Would they treat that toy badly, leave it outside in the dirt or rain, throw it around, break it, or let other irresponsible or rough kids play with it? No. They would handle it with special care. What about my iPhone? Do I leave it unattended in public places, drop it in water or on the ground, or loan it out to strangers? No. It’s valuable to me. Things that are valuable are treated differently than items with little or no value. We are no different. We are valuable and should treat ourselves as such! Additionally, we should ensure others do the same. We are God’s treasured possession, not a doormat for people to walk on!
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine” Exodus 19:5 (ESV)
Secondly, you may not get GOOD friendships until you get rid of unhealthy friendships.
Maybe God keeps the “right” friendships out of our life until we get rid of the “wrong” ones. If we are disobeying God by staying in friendships that aren’t good for us, why should God bring another person into the picture only for them to get hurt as well? Maybe we haven’t found the right friends because God is protecting THEM from OUR bad choices.
If we continue to associate with fools, we will suffer harm and so will others around us. We need to show God that we are capable of setting healthy boundaries. We need to prove ourselves trustworthy of handling better friendships. God should be able to trust us to protect the people He places in our lives. If we won’t even protect ourselves and treat ourselves properly, how can we be expected to be trusted with others.
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” Luke 16:10 (NLT)
Do you want good friends? Then, you need to get rid of the bad ones.
Lastly, you need to start identifying those unhealthy friendships.
I think we innately know when we have a bad friend. However, if you are questioning yourself, look at their actions, or in biblical terms their “fruit”. Good friends will produce good “fruit”. Bad friends will produce bad “fruit”. For example, you can’t call a tree an “apple tree” if the tree produces oranges.
Likewise, you can’t call a person a “good friend” (or even a friend for that matter) if they consistently produce things inconsistent with friendship. For example, a so-called friend who constantly hurts you, belittles you, lies to you, hides things from you, betrays you, laughs at your expense, gossips, or is disloyal (and I could go on) is no friend at all. Those actions are bad fruit. Bad fruits produce unhealthy friendships.
In gardening terms, we need to prune or cut off bad fruit in order to make the plant healthier. Additionally, pruning makes room for new, good fruit to grow (remember previous comments about removing the bad to get the good).
“You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Matthew 7:16-20 (NLT)
“Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right.” Proverbs 20:11 (NLT)
I could go on with more snippets of wisdom, but we’ll save some for later! To sum it all up, I’ll leave you with…
Some Practical Steps to Take to Eliminate Unhealthy Friendships:
- First and foremost, remember that you are valuable and deserving of good, healthy friendships. Make sure others are treating you like the treasure you are. If not, you are letting others treat God’s possession (i.e. YOU) badly. Don’t let God’s stuff be handled inappropriately! Don’t be a doormat!
“for God bought you with a high price…” 1 Corinthians 6:20 (NLT)
- Next, know that it is better to be alone than in bad company. And honestly, you’re never really alone anyway. God is with you, and HE is your friend…always! (plus you have an awesome auntie like me and a pretty wonderful momma too! 🙂 )
“Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (NIV)
“…for He (God) Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake you nor let you down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!” Hebrews 13:5 (AMP)
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15 (NIV)
- Realize that God will restore healthy friendships to you in time, if you will get rid of the unhealthy friendships. Remember that God loves your “new friends” too, and He wants to protect them from any harm that your current unhealthy friendships could cause. You will not be alone or suffer forever. God will restore (in better quality and maybe even quantity) what you have lost. Plants AND people need pruning—remove the bad to get the good!
“God, your God, will restore everything you lost; He’ll have compassion on you…” Deuteronomy 30:3 (MSG)
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10 (ESV)
“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:2 (NIV)
- Start identifying unhealthy friendships by examining their fruit. Do you have a person claiming to be your friend? Look at their “fruit”.
“Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Matthew 7:20 (NLT)
- Finally, cut off and/or eliminate unhealthy, friendships. If you have deemed that a person is not a genuine friend (if they have “bad fruit”), do not continue to associate with them. This is NOT mean or unkind. It is setting a healthy boundary (remember the previous practical steps!). It is better to lose a friend, a part of you, than to lose yourself completely.
NOTE: This does not necessarily mean you have to refuse to ever speak to them or even to treat them badly. Biblical principles and treatment should still be your standard. However, this DOES mean that you cannot allow them to be your close companion any longer. Keep them at arm’s length—far enough out to prevent from them from causing further harm. They should not remain in your tight circle of close friends, and you should probably limit the amount of time you spend with them.
You might find that these unhealthy friendships will gain a new respect for you. They may even learn from their mistakes. However, do not restore relationship immediately or flippantly until you have reexamined their “fruit” over a period of time. They need to prove themselves over time and reestablish trust with you. You might also need to consult somebody else to get a different perspective and wisdom, since you might have a tendency to have a blind spot in this area.
“So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 7:19 (NLT)
“So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30 (NLT)
In conclusion, I hope and pray that you have gathered at least a little bit of wisdom from your aunt’s ramblings! 🙂 I love you very much.
Love, Aunt Tracy
Have you had some unhealthy friendships? How did you identify them? How did you handle them? What was the outcome? Share your experiences by leaving a comment below.
Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, disrespectful, sarcastic, offensive, or off-topic. By posting on this site you agree to my Comment Policy.
P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy receiving new posts delivered right to your inbox each week! Sign up here.
If you know anyone that could benefit from this, please pay it forward! Share this post via the sharing links below. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)