Head of House – Ward

Head of House – Ward

Friend or Frenemy?

As part of the Pastoral Team, I spend a large portion of my time helping students navigate the highs and lows of their adolescent years. Often there are none quite so challenging as those that arise from friendship difficulties.

While on maternity leave last year, I read an article that really struck a chord with me and remained at the forefront of my thinking as I made plans to return as Head of Ward House in 2018. Linda Stade, Research Officer and Education Writer at Santa Maria College, wrote about how we spend a lot of energy protecting our girls from the perils of social media, boys, illicit substances and so on but  ..”the more likely destructive influence on an adolescent girl’s day-to-day life is the damage they do to one another in their friendship groups…” She named this phenomenon amongst teenage girls “relational aggression” and stated it to be one of the biggest challenges facing schools and parents today.

Therefore, during this year where our value of Justice is centre-focus and we are concentrating on being in good relationships, I have been seeking opportunities to address our students’ understanding of “relational aggression”, or what is often better known as “mean girl” behaviour. And, more importantly, to give some guidance on how to more confidently deal with this.

When planning the Year 8 camp, we were gifted with a perfect opportunity to put together a session we called “Friendship and Frenemies”. I spent a couple of hours assisted by Georgia Abbott (Ward House Captain) and Lily Finlayson (Performing Arts Leader) exploring this idea in the beautiful surrounds of Collaroy at the start of Term 2. Students were easily able to identify the qualities of good friends, but many had their eyes opened as we began to address the concept of a “frenemy”. Pretty much every girl in the room, including the Year 12 students, realised they had acted as, or been witness to, frenemy behaviour. The younger students were reassured to know the senior girls had all experienced friendship challenges too. It comforted them to hear that many had been through major shifts in group dynamics and learned tough lessons along the way, but that our Class of 2018 had matured into a much more cohesive, accepting and confident group of young women. Of course, we did not discount that senior students (and even adults!) still have friendship challenges, but we talked about the ability to learn from experience and to have more confidence in who or what matters, as well as grasping a better understanding of sincerity, integrity and the real key – living life as the person we truly want to be rather than the one we think others want us to be.

Some of the take-home messages from the session are:

  • True friends would never ask you to be anything other than yourself. They wouldn’t ask you to do or say things that make you uncomfortable and they wouldn’t suggest ways that you should change.
  • True friends are happy you have other friends, other plans and equally do so themselves.
  • True friends have the confidence to stand up for you, they don’t act as bystanders allowing “mean girl” behaviour to continue around you.
  • True friends allow you to have your own opinions and genuinely respect that your view may be different to theirs.
  • Friendship dynamics change over time. Girls rarely finish in Year 12 with exactly the same group of friends they started with in Year 7. It’s okay to want to spend time with another group or have space from your current group. And as a community, we should always embrace the Mary Ward open circle, welcoming others into our group if they need a safe space.
  • Everyone is human. We all make mistakes and many of us slip to the “frenemy” side of the friendship scale on occasion. But a true friend will own it, apologise sincerely and the friendship can move forward. It takes patience, practice and time to become a true friend.

We followed up this session back at school last week with some reflections, further discussion and eventually the building of our “Year 8 Ward House Friendship Wall” where each student made a pledge for making Ward House Year 8 a better community able to support each other. We agreed on a motto as the wall was finalised:

“True friends should build you up, not pull you down.”

I often read the works of Steve Biddulph, psychologist and author of “Ten Things Girls Need Most.” He gave some excellent advice to parents in an article he wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald last year: “There are some friendship lessons every child must learn, such as that it’s OK to not always go along with your friends. A friend can differ and still be a friend. And that compromise is important, but never compromise yourself.”

I will continue to work on this message with the girls of Ward House and hopefully emphasise with all year groups that having healthy relationships with friends is vital to being happy and feeling good about yourself.


Mrs Emma Hughes

Head of Ward House