At some point in everyone’s life we feel the burning rage of jealousy. It hits us as children like a punch to our abdomen and it hurts. It can lead to tears and anguish but for some young people it can consume them to a point of becoming a bully, manifesting in aggression and rage towards others both verbally and physically or a young person can be come reclusive and retreat from social groups as their low-self esteem takes hold.
This is a common problem with teenage girls, friendships are at the heart of every girl’s life. Every girl wants to be accepted by their peers and part of the most fashionable group. How they handle the ups and downs of friendships sets the precedent for how they behave and view themselves as adults.
Friendship can be extremely difficult for parents and teachers who are faced with a division in friendships groups. It is always best to voice your concerns. In the Year 6 to 7 transition, a parent came to see me about her daughter. F’s mum was concerned that she wouldn’t make friends easily as there had been issues in primary school, she told me that she never got along with girls and that she would be better off with boys. I explained that we balanced the tutor groups as much as possible and that secondary was quite different to primary in that boys hated girls usually from the second week of Year 7 until about Year 10 when they suddenly became interested in them as potential GFs.
Mum was right, F was at the epicentre of girl feuds usually because she had started them by saying something catty or spreading rumours. But F could never understand why she was always the one who everybody hated (she was “just saying the truth”) and why she couldn’t make friends, even with all the evidence stacked up against her, she never admitted she was in the wrong.
Jealousy is a beautiful emotion I told her. She looked at me like I was mad. I asked her to list all the things she liked about herself. Then I asked her to list all the things she disliked about this one particular girl B.
B was very popular, she was very clever, in top sets for Maths and English, she had a nice family and was always immaculately turned out. The list that F comprised was made up of things such as ‘she thinks too much of herself’, ‘she always answers the teacher’s questions’, ‘she thinks she is so perfect’ ‘she never does anything wrong.’ The list was endless. But the list about herself, nothing, not one thing could F say she liked about herself because it ‘was a dumb thing to do’.
I went through things such as her hair, her teeth, her nice shoes, her beautiful smile and for every positive thing I said about her, she counteracted with two and sometimes three negative comments.
ME: Your hair is so beautiful, I like the way it catches the sun.
F: It’s disgusting, it’s ginger and it is always frizzy.
ME: you have a really lovely smile.
F: Oh my god, no way. I hate it, my teeth are all wonky.
ME: you have lovely teeth
F: seriously Miss, they need like braces.
And so on, these conversations are so vivid and well remembered because they are universal to girls who have low confidence and self-esteem.
F was jealous of B, so she tried as hard as she could to undermine her, make her feel bad because that’s how F felt about herself. The taunts, the salacious gossip and the attempts to leave B out were F’s way of saying, I want to be like her.
Envy and Love are both produced by the same hormone Oxytocin, scientific stuff aside, it means you can’t experience one without the other which is exactly what I told F. I told F that all the things she admires about B are glimpses of herself that she would like to see more of. This conversation wasn’t easy at first, no teenage girl ever wants to be accused of envy and jealousy. But kindness, time and gentle examples helped F to see that it really was her issue.
I suggested that F wanted B’s friendship and to be more liked by her peers, she wanted to feel like she could answer questions in class and feel confident to shrug away criticisms from others. F was really hurting, she had never known real friendships so it made sense she didn’t know how to be a friend.
As for B, she understood and accepted F as a friend. She quite liked the concept of jealousy being a beautiful emotion. She was able to see F in a less threatening light, she felt confident to see past all of the negativity and retained her confidence level.
Jealousy is an insight to what is missing, a window on confidence and a self esteem check. It really is a beautiful emotion.
Some ideas to help with self-esteem and low confidence:
1) Give them a book to write down all the positive things that happened that day. Ask them to share what they are most proud of. They can then look back and see their worth written down.
2) Compliment them- discreetly ask members of staff to do so too.
3) Talk though negative feelings, allow them to cry or scream somewhere safe and private.
If you are really worried or there are no signs of improvement, teacher should flag with your SENCO and ask them to refer to an educational psychologist.
Parents, for support and advice, talk to your child’s school or contact one of the links below: