How to Spot Your Child's Frenemy

Displeased female student bullied by her classmate standing alone in a hallway.

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Friendships are an important part of teen life. But not all friendships are created equal nor are all friendships healthy friendships. In fact, some are downright mean. Yet kids often do not see the damage these relationships can cause. In fact, some adults cannot tell if someone is a friend or a bully.

When a bully poses as a friend, these bullies are often called frenemies. Frenemies make life miserable for your kids. As master manipulators, they deceive people into believing they are friends when really the relationship is just a means to end. 

Frenemies also can use peer pressure to manipulate others and soon your child is bullying people too. As a result, it is important to identify frenemies early on.


To prevent your kids from developing relationships with bullies, talk to them about the characteristics of a frenemy. Here is a list of contrasting characteristics to discuss with your child. Together, talk about the differences between good friends and frenemies.

  • Wants power over friends and to make the decisions

  • Excludes others, forms cliques, controls who their friends are friends with

  • Belittle, shame, and gossip about others

  • Pursue popularity at the expense of others

  • May spread lies, twist facts

  • Emotionally manipulative

  • Talks about friends behind their backs

Good Friend
  • Collaborates as an equal in the friendship

  • Open, inclusive, welcoming of more friends

  • Respects others and shows kindness

  • Values friends more than popularity

  • Tells the truth and takes responsibility

  • Respects boundaries, is supportive

  • Keeps friend's personal information private

Frenemies Thrive on Power

These kids seek power over others, likely to fill a void in themselves.

  • Frenemies like to have power over others, but good friends want relationships to be balanced and equal.
  • Frenemies like to be the one in control and make all the decisions. Good friends are willing to collaborate on decisions.
  • Frenemies often resort to relational aggression including building alliances, forming groups and excluding people, but good friends welcome everyone.
  • Frenemies tell others who they can and cannot be friends with while good friends are open to making new friends.
  • Frenemies often feel entitled to things or want special treatment while good friends are humble and appreciative.
  • Frenemies enjoy intimidating other people by giving certain looks and rolling their eyes. Good friends greet other people with a smile.

Frenemies Aren't Nice

These relationships are often one-sided and while the "friend" seems outwardly nice, they are engaging in unkind behavior.

  • Frenemies may appear sweet and charming but are really just acting nice. Good friends are genuine and authentic.
  • Frenemies twist facts and situations to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. But good friends will admit when they are wrong.
  • Frenemies are sometimes jealous, envious, or resentful of others. Good friends do not feel threatened by other people's successes. Instead, they celebrate with them.
  • Frenemies focus on being popular and sometimes will hurt others that they feel threatened by. But good friends are more interested in friendship than popularity.
  • Frenemies stab others in the back to climb the social ladder. Good friends are loyal and stick up for their friends.
  • Frenemies are critical and talk badly about others, even their friends. Good friends are encouraging and refrain from saying hurtful things.
  • Frenemies laugh and make fun of other people for the way they dress, look or act. But good friends respect other people's differences and appreciate them for who they are.
  • Frenemies think it is acceptable to belittle and ridicule their friends in front of other people. But good friends are careful to be encouraging, kind and respectful.

Frenemies will exploit a friend's goodwill or generosity. But good friends are appreciative when another person helps them out.

Frenemies Create Drama

Drama tends to be a goal of these unhealthy relationships.

  • Frenemies share personal information while good friends keep personal information private.
  • Frenemies tells lies and half-truths while good friends are honest and straightforward.
  • Frenemies are emotionally manipulative and will use guilt trips and pouting to get what they want. Good friends understand limitations and respect boundaries.
  • Frenemies create drama by gossiping and spreading rumors while good friends enjoy talking about interests, activities, and ideas.
  • Frenemies enjoy leaving hurtful or mean messages on desks, in lockers or on social media. Good friends would rather send encouraging notes or messages.
  • Frenemies engage in cyberbullying. Good friends only post positive comments on social media.

How to Intervene

If your child has developed a relationship with a frenemy, encourage them to put some space between them and the friend. Reinforce the idea that having a connection to a frenemy can cause a lot of stress and pain. But be prepared for some resistance. 

Sometimes it is hard for kids to separate themselves from someone they feel connected to. It also may take some time for them to develop other friendships. So be patient.

In the meantime, help your child make connections with others. Invite other friends over and encourage your child to try new activities or explore new interests. Eventually, with your help, your child will develop other friendships.

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