Kids’ friendships tend to be filled with ups and downs and changes. Possibly your daughter has a friend who sometimes feels more like a frenemy. Or your son hasn’t found a group that feels like a good fit. Or your child has a friendship that suddenly ended in middle school.
To add more complexity, people have different expectations and needs in friendship. This ambiguity makes friendships confusing, especially for preteens and teens.
While doing research for BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendship, I wanted to address this ambiguity. To clarify the different phases and qualities of friendships, I sketched out the first draft of the Friendship Pyramid on a notepad.
Over time, the Pyramid grew into the framework I use to help kids navigate their social world. It also reminds us of friendship skills and truths.
Since the release of BFF or NRF, the Friendship Pyramid has grown into a fridge-worthy resource for families. Click here to download a free PDF version. When I talk about the Friendship Pyramid with kids and families, there are a few key points I like to share:
“Close friends” make up the tip of the pyramid. Most people have just a few close friends since these friendships take longer to develop, and they tend to be unique connections. Close friendships are filled with acceptance and trust.
However, it is not uncommon for preteens and teens to go through phases where they feel like they do not have a close friend. This feels unsettling because friendships take on a significant role during adolescence. During these times, caregivers can make sure kids have someone in their life who they can go to for support.
The “friends” level of the pyramid is broad and includes various people like classmates, team members, neighbors, etc. These friendships are fun and accepting, but because they may not have developed the trust and connection of “close friends,” kids may not share personal information or feel comfortable with some of them. Some of these friendships may grow into close friends, but many will not, which is perfectly okay. Having friends in various groups and places is a good way for preteens and teens to spread their wings.
The Pyramid base is filled with people or acquaintances who could be new friends. Kids see these people around town or at school, but they do not know them yet. Encourage kids to stay open to new friendships.
NRF (Not Really Friends)
“NRFs” or Not Really Friends are the relationships in our lives that are more difficult. Possibly they are nice sometimes and mean sometimes. Or they leave you feeling uncomfortable being yourself. These relationships lack trust, so you may find yourself being careful about what you say.
I’m not a fan of labels, but I thought it was necessary to describe these relationships. “Not Really Friends” worked well because it simply describes what is going on. In these relationships, I encourage kids to be cautious and kind. Here we are practicing boundaries with kindness. Everyone is growing and changing, especially during childhood and the teen years. These relationships may improve or change over time too.
The Friendship Pyramid—In Summary
Running up and down the sides of the Pyramid are the words “Change” and “Misunderstandings.” These words represent two important friendships truths. First, friendships naturally change over time. They wax and wane as people and life change.
Second, in any relationship, misunderstandings are common. We are all human and have different expectations and needs. And we all mess up.
The Friendship Pyramid helps to remove some of the ambiguity in relationships. It also reminds kids what to look for in friendship and how to be a good friend. Kids (and adults) are all works-in-progress. Everyone is doing the best they can given their circumstances on any given day. Through our friendships, we grow, change, and learn to be our best selves.
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 (Releasing August 2022). Her interactive books engage and entertain readers by combining the stories of preteens and teens with fun activities, like quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks. Blending humor, a dash of science, and practical insights, her writing unpacks the tricky stuff that peaks during adolescence.