Ep. 59 – Jessie, Age 13: Get rid of toxic friends

Dumping a friend or working things out by changing the dance?

Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Ep. 59 – Jessie, Age 13: Get rid of toxic friends


Think About It Questions

  • Have you ever wanted to end a friendship? What happened?
  • In your own words, how would you explain this comment from Dr. Friendtastic? “I don’t believe people can be poison [toxic]. What I do believe is that sometimes people get into patterns of interacting that are hurtful for one or both of them.”
  • How is a friendship like an old-fashioned dance, where people hold onto each other? What are some ways you could change a friendship dance if you didn’t like what was happening?
  • Why is it not a good idea to suddenly stop talking to a friend, with no explanation?


Hi there! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.

Here’s today’s question:

Hi, my name is Jessie, and I'm 13 years old. And my question is, how do you get rid of toxic friends?

Hi, Jessie. Ouch! It sounds like you’re feeling very hurt and angry about something that happened with your friends. Because we care about our friends, we can feel hurt by things they do, especially when it seems like they don’t care about us!

But I’m going to challenge your view of things a bit here. You’re calling your friends “toxic.” Toxic means poison. I don’t believe people can be poison. What I do believe is that sometimes people get into patterns of interacting that are hurtful for one or both of them.

A friendship, or any close relationship, is like one of those old-fashioned dances, where people are holding onto each other. The people are linked, so when one person takes a step, the other person takes a step in response, and they move together.

That means that you have a part in whatever is happening with your friends. I’m not saying this to blame you in any way. This is actually a good thing because it means that if you respond differently than you have been, that’s like taking a step in a different direction, and your partner in the dance–your friend–will also move differently.

Now, maybe what’s happened between you and your friends is something you feel is unforgivable, and you just want to cut ties. Choosing who you want to be friends with is absolutely your decision.

If you want to end things, one way to do it is to suddenly cut your friend off and refuse to speak to her. I think that’s a mean thing to do, so I hope you won’t. Your friend would likely feel confused and upset and maybe tell everyone that you’re being mean.

Another option is to tell the former friend directly, “I don’t want to be friends anymore.” Then, explain why, focusing on “I” rather than “you.” Saying, “I don’t like it when you blab my secrets” is a more useful and respectful message than “You’re a jerk!”

But you may want to slow down and think things through. Is dumping your friends really the only option? If these friendships were good before, don’t throw them away lightly. Maybe you could take different steps and change the dance of your friendship.

The most direct way to change the dance is to tell your friend what you’re thinking and feeling and ask for what you want. Don’t assume that your friend magically knows this, even if it seems obvious to you.

Maybe you could say, “I felt embarrassed and angry when you teased me about being a slow runner in front of all the other kids. Could you please support me instead of putting me down, especially in front of other people?” Asking for what you want makes it easier for your friend to give it to you!

Another way to change the dance is to change how you respond. For example, if you’ve always given in to your friend’s requests, even when you didn’t want to, maybe you could start saying no in a calm but confident way. If you know this friend always blabs your secrets, maybe you could decide not to tell her certain things. You can’t control what your friend does, but you’re in charge of what you do, so this could be a great option.

A third way to change the dance is to create a little bit more distance between you by expanding your social circle. This is not a cut-off. You’d still be friends, but you’d also make time for other friends. So, maybe you wouldn’t see these friends every weekend, or maybe some days you’d sit with someone else at lunch. This might lower the heat on your conflicts. If you choose this option, you may need to reassure your old friends that you still care about them and be extra friendly when you are together.

So, there are lots of things you could do that might improve your friendships. Try some before you decide you have to end things. If you choose to move on, I hope you’ll do it with kindness.

This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.

Do you want to learn even more about friendship? Check out my funny and practical books for kids: Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, and my new book, Growing Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Dealing with Emotions About Friends and Other Kids. They’re available through your library or wherever you buy books.

OR find them on your favorite podcast platform!