How to respond when life sneaks up and bites you
Q: My 17-year-old daughter is a junior in high school. She has had the same best friend for years, and they've done everything together.
Suddenly, this friend has decided she wants to hang out with kids who party and drink. My daughter is not comfortable with that. She really does not have other girls she hangs out with.
What do I tell her? If she doesn't party, then her friendship with this girl is over. It is a shame that in today's world a teen needs to drink to fit in. She is devastated.
A: In today's world, and in yesterday's world, and no doubt in the world of the day before that, there are people who choose the low road, forcing their friends to choose between acting against conscience, or eating lunch alone.
This isn't a peculiar teenage drama, this is a human archetype.
While there's almost nothing you can do to provide immediate relief to a 17-year-old who has just awoken to life without friends, you can provide the slower-acting relief of perspective. Please explain to her that this is a common, normal, entirely unavoidable rite of passage, which isn't just parent-speak for "flaming bag of (poo) on one's doorstep." It's about finding opportunity in agony.
From the minute we leave the womb, life is about making the best of an unwelcome change in circumstances.
Your daughter can try to make new friends, she can embrace her inner resourceful loner, she can try to remain close with her old friend while Just Saying No to whatever she'd rather not do.
You don't seem to be considering the last one, that this friend can remain a friend if your daughter decides not to drink — and for all I know, those are the terms the friend herself has set out.
However, 17 is plenty old enough to navigate the gray area of when and when not to judge others. As deeply imperfect beings, people can't throw the flag on every friend for every oops without being hypocrites themselves. So where is the line? At what point is it okay not to judge someone for being naughty, and when does that become enabling dangerous, even evil, behavior? These are questions we're all better for asking ourselves; your daughter has a living laboratory to help her refine her answers.
She's also talking to you about her friend's partying — meaning, she doesn't feel that common, misplaced duty to keep everything a secret. That means you have a chance to talk to her openly — and, even more important, listen to her carefully — about where this friend's decisions are coming from; what they do and don't say about the friend's future, character, worthiness as a friend; and what knowledge of herself your daughter can take away from this. That's more valuable, even, than a lifelong, do-everything friend.
So many people choose, often unnecessarily, to work through these things on their own. Please don't miss this opportunity to provide a judgment-free zone for your very sad but very promising kid to deal with this abrupt introduction to life outside of the womb.