Care and Feeding

How Do I Help My Teen Who’s Been Ghosted by Her Friends?

A teen girl looks down solemnly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo byValeriy_G/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 13-year-old, “Cassie”, was ghosted by her long-term friend group, and it’s breaking my heart. Cassie has been friends with a group of three other girls since they met in kindergarten. However, I know that this is an age where many kids are obsessed with popularity and being cool. Kids who are seen as “weird” or “uncool” have a tough go of it, and I fear that that’s what’s happening to Cassie. Cassie has always been one of those kids who matches to the beat of her own drum. She doesn’t seem to care about conforming with her peers or following trends. She likes to dress in a manner that other teens consider unfashionable, has hobbies that some may think of as unusual, and is generally unconcerned with popularity. For years, this did not preclude her from having a great friendship with these girls.

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As far as I was aware, her social life was doing wonderfully for years. Cassie mentioned the other day that those girls stopped talking to her and unfollowed her on social media out of the blue, and have become closer with some popular kids in their school. They told her that she was too weird and uncool, and that she was bringing them down by being friends with them. Cassie is typically reserved about her emotions, and didn’t volunteer how she felt about this abandonment, but I’d imagine it has been painful for her. These girls have been at the center of her social life for years and that was just ripped away from her. As a parent, you hate to see your child in a situation like this, and I’m at a loss about what to do. I’ve told her that I love her and will always be there for her, but I don’t know if I need to do anything else. How can I help my child survive being ghosted by her friends?

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—Ghostbuster

Dear Ghostbuster,

First off, the early teen years can be just straight up awful for many kids (myself included, back in the day), so I completely empathize with Cassie. However, I want to give major kudos to your daughter for a few reasons.

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It takes an incredible amount of self-confidence to be true to yourself at all times and zig when everyone is zagging. Many kids will do anything to fit in with the crowd and often it can be to their detriment (drugs, sex, alcohol, bullying, etc.) and the fact that she’s staying true to herself shows how strong she is.

America is overrun with mediocre people living mediocre lives who don’t have the courage to step outside of their comfort zones. Not to mention, in typical mediocre fashion, these kids are blaming your daughter for being different. Cassie is a leader, and leaders are often misunderstood by the masses. That doesn’t make her “uncool” or “weird”, it makes her unique and special — and you should tell her that every day. I know I’d rather have my two young daughters spend time with someone like her than a bunch of carbon-copied mean girls. Lions don’t waste time worrying about the opinions of sheep — and in reality, those girls were bringing her down, not the other way around.

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All of that said, she’s still only 13 years old and losing an entire friend circle overnight would be traumatic for almost anyone. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to have her talk to a therapist to ensure there aren’t any red flags you may have missed during this ordeal. In the meantime, I want to give you props for raising a great kid, and continue telling her how amazing she is. I’m 100 percent sure she will find her people sooner rather than later.

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From this week’s letter, “My 8-Year-Old Niece Insulted My Looks. No One Believes Me.”: “I know what that means. That means, ‘You are old and ugly.’”

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband has an acquaintance from high school who moved to our area shortly before we did. His wife is not necessarily my cup of tea, but I generally get along with her. They are part of our larger shared group of friends, which includes two other couples. The problem is their daughter, who is a few months older than our 5-year-old. Their daughter is incredibly aggressive and physical with our son, and also with other kids. For example, her hugging often turns into squeezing, she often tackles him, etc. This happens every time they have a play date so we stopped doing them for a few months. My son tells her to stop and that he does not like it, but she does not listen. She has to be physically restrained or stopped because neither I nor her parents telling her will result in her letting go.

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After a recent outing together where the girl was generally well behaved, I had the daughter and mom over for a play date but was clear that it would be for two hours only. An hour and a half into the visit, the girl started getting more physical with my son, holding pillows over his face, grabbing him and holding him down, and scratching him. When I said that we had to wrap up the play date, that resulted in the girl throwing a half an hour tantrum screaming, rolling all over, and her mom trying to physically restrain her. She grabbed my son‘s head and I told them firmly the play date was over.

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The problem is that they have been invited to my son‘s birthday party in two weeks, and I’m not sure if there’s a polite way to disinvite them, or if I should. The girl attacked another child on the school bus (per Mom) and is due to be evaluated, but I really just do not want her around my son anymore. I want to do my job to protect my son, and I also don’t want to put any other kids in a situation that could potentially harm them. But I’m not sure if I should just let her come to the party and rely on her parents to watch her. My husband said he would ask them to leave if there was any sort of incident but really, I’m just done socializing my son with this girl.

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—Stuck In Playdate Hell

Dear Stuck,

It’s clear that this little girl has some serious issues that needs addressing. Since she’s not your kid, there isn’t much you can do to ensure she gets the help she needs — but you can certainly do your part to protect your son.

My first thought was that you shouldn’t rescind the invitation to your son’s birthday party and wait to see how things go before taking drastic action (like kicking them out), but now I have different ideas.

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Life has been pretty difficult for everyone across the globe due to the pandemic, especially kids. 2020 was filled with virtual schooling, parties, and holidays—which was no fun for anyone. Now that things are starting to open up again in 2021 (regardless of a new COVID variant on the rise), we should give our kids the fun they so desperately need and deserve (in a way that’s safe, of course). With that in mind, even though you have mutual friends, you’re not especially close with this girl’s parents, so I would absolutely remove their daughter from the invitation.

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The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so it’s pretty likely that she would act up at the party. And then what? Make a scene by kicking her family out and making the rest of the party uncomfortable for everyone in attendance? No thanks. You can say something like, “Based on what happened between your daughter and my son, I think it’s best to not have her come to his birthday party,” and leave it at that. Her parents may be upset or offended, but always remember that your son is your primary concern. Also, if they’re keeping it real with themselves, they should understand.

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One potential bonus of not inviting this girl to the party is lighting a fire under her parents’ rear ends to get her evaluated by a mental health professional immediately. I know if I was in their shoes and one of my daughters was told she wasn’t welcomed at a birthday party due to her behavior, I’d do whatever I could to fix it, stat.

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You should be unapologetic about making your son’s birthday party the best it can possibly be, and ensuring that girl doesn’t attend is one way to do that. Maybe I sound a little harsh here, but I’ve been in your shoes, and I still regret not making some last-minute changes to a past birthday party list so that my daughter could have a conflict-free celebration. Good luck.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Monday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the mom of two adult sons in their twenties, whom I love so much. I come from an incredibly dysfunctional family (narcissistic mom, religious zealot stepfather, absent bio-dad) and spent my life as the family scapegoat until I cut off contact with the majority of my family a few years ago after a series of events. My problem at this point is my brother. He has some serious issues. He’s a former drug addict who hasn’t held a job in years and essentially bullies people into financially supporting him. While I have distanced myself from him, he has decided that my 26-year-old is his “de-facto” son. My son tries to maintain distance from him, but he will blow up my son’s phone with “trauma dumping” (my son’s words) texts to the point that my son doesn’t even want to check his phone. Most recently, my brother posted a video on my son’s Facebook wall pleading for my son to reach out to him. I’m relieved that my son moved recently and my brother doesn’t know the address because he had a habit of showing up unannounced. I am at a loss of what to do. I feel that if I confront my brother the situation will escalate, because he will say that my son is an adult and can associate with who he pleases (although I would argue that my son’s silence is his answer regarding that). I am racked with guilt that my toxic family is causing my son distress. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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—Loving Mom/Fed Up Sister

Dear Loving Mom,

I know your 26-year-old son will always be your baby, but to the rest of the world, he’s a grown man who should be fighting his own battles. As long as you’ve given him the green light to tell your brother to hit the bricks, you should let him do so on his own without getting involved.

In terms of how your son should do that, I’m a firm believer it should be done directly. I’ve never been a fan of ghosting/ignoring people, because I think it can send the wrong message (your brother continuing to contact your son is a good example). I’d advise your son to say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I think it’s in my best interest not to have you contact me anymore.” Unless your son wants to, he doesn’t owe your brother any further explanation other than that. From there, he should block your brother’s number and social media accounts and move on with his life.

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When your brother inevitably confronts you about your son’s behavior, you can throw the line back in his face that you predicted he would say to you — “he’s an adult and can associate with whomever he pleases.” Life is too short to be burdened by people who bring us down, so I hope your son takes action to rid himself of your brother as soon as possible.

I should also mention that your son should seek therapy if this situation is causing him significant stress (which it seems like it is), and you should do your part to guide him in that direction. Speaking of which, your brother needs to address his issues with a mental health professional as well, but it’s not your son’s responsibility to help him.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have a 3-year-old in a private Waldorf-inspired preschool that goes up to middle school. We also have an 8-month-old baby at home. Going into the school year, we were assured that the school was taking all the necessary precautions to protect the children from Covid. Last year the school managed to stay open and did not have a single positive Covid case. Unfortunately, there have been five positive cases (at least five, we are finding out about more cases as testing occurs) in the upper school in the last three weeks. Throughout this ordeal, we have discovered that our daughter’s preschool teacher is most likely unvaccinated, though it seems that she is in the minority at the school. The school is implementing a once a week testing mandate regardless of vaccination status but has stated clearly it has no plans to implement a vaccination mandate. Our pediatrician feels strongly that at this point an unvaccinated adult will almost definitely get Covid and therefore we should pull our unable-to-be-vaccinated child from the school. We have her infant brother to worry about, as well as my partner who has co-morbidities that could make even a breakthrough case very dangerous.

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Our daughter has been thriving at the school and we were very happy with her class and instruction so far. The majority of the parents in the class support a vaccination mandate and some are definitely pulling their kids if we don’t have confirmation of a vaccinated teacher, but at least one parent has said they would pull their kid is there WAS a vaccination mandate. The other preschools in the area are currently all full so transferring is not a possibility. The state guidelines stated back in September that unvaccinated teachers must be tested weekly but for a myriad of reasons our school was not complying. If they say they are testing now, can we believe them? Is weekly testing enough? What are the greater implications of having a teaching staff that doesn’t believe in science? Is this just what the world is going to be like from now on?

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—Vaxxed and Vexed in NY

Dear Vaxxed,

It’s absolutely bananas to me that we’ve been in a pandemic for almost two years and some of the people responsible for educating our vulnerable children have no clue about public safety. There’s no way in hell I would let my now-vaccinated kids be “educated” by someone who doesn’t understand that vaccines are the safest and most effective way to protect the population from this virus. Not to mention that the new Omicron variant poses a new threat to us.

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I agree with your pediatrician regarding pulling your daughter from that preschool as soon as possible. Yes, I know you said the other preschools in the area are full, but let’s have some perspective here. Your daughter is three years old—you’re not going to stunt her future education by keeping her home for a year at that age. She’s too young to be vaccinated, and you already mentioned how devastating the virus could be for your family if she brought it home. In my opinion, this is a no-brainer: get her out of that school.

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Regarding your question about whether this is what the world is going to be like now, I certainly hope not. Sure, there will always be weirdos who don’t believe in science, but I think the vast majority of rational people do — and your job is to surround your daughter with as many of those people as possible going forward.

—Doyin

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