In BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships, I share nine “friendship truths.” These truths help preteens and teens (and adults) navigate relationships with more social awareness. I’m diving into the Friendship Truths in this series of posts. Here are the posts about Friendship Truths #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6 if you missed them. Now, let’s explore #7:
Friendship Truth #7: We Teach Others How We Want to be Treated by Speaking Up.
In the preteen years, friendships, acceptance, and belonging take on a more significant role in kids’ lives. Preteen and teen friendships may feel fragile, so it makes sense that kids may or may not speak up when someone is not treating them well. Plus, speaking up effectively and in a way that connects is a skill many kids have not learned yet.
I remember a 4th grader telling me she was afraid to speak up because she “might get her head mowed off.” After more discussion, I learned she wasn’t scared of physical harm but unsure how her feedback to her friend would land. Her friend might stop being her friend, might not listen, or it might cause a strain in the friendship. All things she hoped to avoid.
This is where “I Statements” come in. Words matter a lot. Let’s start with a quiz:
Quiz: Which of These Statements Would You Rather Have Said to You?
A. “You need to help more. I’ve been doing all the work lately.”
B. “I feel overwhelmed by all of the work. Can we talk about that?”
You might prefer C. None of the above. These types of conversations are not easy. Yet they are an unavoidable part of being in a relationship. Given a choice, people prefer B.
Choice B is an “I statement” where the speaker owns their feelings and is assertive without criticizing or putting you on the defensive.
Choice A is a “you statement” that doesn’t identify feelings, incites blame, and may escalate the conflict. I do a similar quiz with kids, and they prefer I statements too.
Why Are Homes, Schools, and Playgrounds Filled With “You Statements”? (You should, you never, you better, etc.)
The main reason is habit. “You statements” are a common communication method. It takes conscious effort to break old patterns. Other reasons are fear of being vulnerable and sharing feelings or not being in touch with our emotions.
Using “I Statements” to Speak Up and Connect (Instead of Divide)
Alternatively, “I statements” are an effective way to speak up and resolve conflict. In BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships, I call it “I Power.” Here’s a worksheet from my friendship program I used to help kids understand the concept. I found that kids enjoyed doing role-plays to practice using “I statements” as well as identifying what phrases to avoid, such as blaming statements and criticism.
How to Help with Friendship Truth #7: We Teach Others How We Want to be Treated by Speaking Up.
Even with “I Statements,” speaking up is difficult for many kids (and adults). Here are ways parents and caregivers can help:
- Help kids identify which situations merit speaking up. It would be exhausting if kids responded to every problem, snide comment or misstep. Let kids take the lead in determining which situations warrant a response and which do not. Often, situations that are repeated, hurtful, and/or are harming the friendship need a response. For example, if another child is repeatedly making fun of them in a cruel way.
- Encourage kids to choose what they are comfortable saying and role-play with them. If a situation does not feel emotionally safe, kids might choose a simple statement like, “I want you to stop gossiping about me,” instead of sharing their feelings. Explore how tone of voice, body language, and posture are important parts of communication too.
- Lastly, remind kids that speaking up is sometimes difficult and takes practice, but it’s an essential skill that is useful throughout our lives. By speaking up, we are teaching others how we want to be treated (Friendship Truth #7) Speaking up with “I statements” helps to ensure were are treating others with dignity too.
About Jessica Speer
Jessica Speer is the award-winning author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships (2021) and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised (August 2022). She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids. For more information, visit JessicaSpeer.com