Our kids will face some difficult friendships as they grow up and delve into new social circles. We need to be aware of how those relationships develop and how they impact our children. I’m sure there are similar dynamics with boys, but I have found in my 30+ years of working with kids, that girls seem most vulnerable to dysfunctional peer relations. There are many various roles kids play in peer groups, and one of the most toxic ones is the Pot Stirrer.
Ah, the Pot Stirrers. I’ve witnessed quite a few in my experience as a therapist, teacher, and ministry leader. Let me share with you what I have learned…
Pot Stirrers are easily identifiable, although they establish themselves in a deceptively innocent way. Often the instigators, Pot Stirrers can be found at the center of any drama. Friends who stand beside them are vulnerable to unsuspecting betrayal as they could easily become the next target of their attacks.
Pot Stirrers seem to always have something to complain about, and they are in constant need of validation and attention. They will do just about anything to get either.
Pot Stirrers aren’t malicious, but they can be manipulative and self-serving in how they engage with their friends, often setting little fires of he said-she said and fanning the flames into a wildfire of conflict among peers. They are skilled at weaving webs of connections that brilliantly display solidarity with the subconscious motive of leading the pack and staying in the spotlight.
This dynamic grows risky during the middle school years when girls are exploring new friendships, growing in awareness of the world, and trying to figure out their place in it. Middle school girls develop a tight network of friends during those early adolescent years. Peer groups are often the most important part of their lives. If there is a Pot Stirrer in the group, the social dynamic can become harmful, dysfunctional, and futile.
Pot Stirrers often have a loyal band of friends who will forever come to their rescue, because no one likes to see their friend hurting. The Pot Stirrers are not always fully aware of their manipulative techniques but possess an uncanny skill of raising a call to arms for any perceived bruising or wound inflicted upon their reputation and, ultimately, their psyche. Their stirring often leads to messy mayhem.
“Support your sisters!” is something we urge our daughters to do – a principle we can all value. We embrace backing up and standing up for the rights of others while taking the necessary steps to help those in need. But what about those difficult friendships?
Herein lies the problem: Sisters can get pulled into the muck of the stirred pot and often can’t see the passive, self-serving motives of the Stirrer. This can cause shifts in alignment among those involved and fracture friendships within the group. Whatever the issue might be, friends are forced to take sides, and the truth gets buried in the rubble.
This gets dangerous.
If your child is a compassionate caretaker, who will easily get pulled into helping other people with their problems, I urge you to equip her with the knowledge of the Pot Stirrer’s ways. The kids most vulnerable to getting pulled into the pots are the ones who may be gullible and easily deceived as they trust quickly and give freely to their friends. This may become detrimental to their own mental health because they often don’t realize the grip the Pot Stirrer has on them.
Help your child become aware of her role in friendships like this, and empower her with ways to detach and honor her own self-preservation. The last thing you want is to watch your own kid get thrown under the bus, or possibly worse.
If your child is continually manipulated by a Pot Stirrer, she may be denied the liberty to develop her own individual identity and thus be less likely to pursue new friends and healthy relationships.
We’ve all experienced this type of friendship in one way or another. Pot Stirrers are an inevitable part of all our lives, and it’s up to us to be aware of the dysfunction that can develop with these types of friends.
I vividly recall being sucked into the pot with a friend, who flew into my life and quickly started a storm of emotional drama within my group of friends. I adored her and naturally believed her and wanted to help her resolve the conflicts with those who, she claimed, had hurt her. After months of trying to affirm her ongoing complaints with the other friends in the group, I slowly began to realize the divide she had caused among us all.
Other friends identified her manipulative behavior long before I did because she convinced me that she was the victim. I was finally able to recognize her destructive behavior and the impact it was having on my own mental health and decided I needed to end the friendship. It wasn’t easy to do, but I knew being friends with her impeded my other friendships. Her needs were dominating my life.
A hard life lesson to learn, and one I wish I’d learned sooner.
This isn’t to say that we must end all friendships with Pot Stirrers. That was the best decision for me in my own circumstance. It’s most important to recognize the Pot Stirrers in our lives and remain vigilant in protecting our own mental health and friendships. We must teach our children to do the same.
There is a fine line between friendship and foe with a Pot Stirrer. Although we never want to promote judgment or exclusion, we must encourage our kids to be socially aware and teach them how to care for themselves while caring for others. It’s an excellent life skill to master.
Loving difficult people can be difficult. And Pot Stirrers need our love.
But in loving difficult people, we must sometimes make difficult decisions for the sake of our own well-being. Learning to set and keep healthy boundaries is one of the greatest lessons we can teach our kids as they mature and dive deeper into various relationships.
Help your kids become aware of these traits in Pot Stirrers so they can develop a better understanding of the dynamics that can play out in some friendships as well as the pressures of social group thinking.
If kids can identify the dysfunction and danger with these kinds of people, they will be more equipped in dealing with them as they grow older and the stakes get much higher.
*This post was originally published on Parent.Co.