Episode 24 – Olivia, Age 13: Fake friends versus real friends

Some friendships have limits

Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Episode 24 – Olivia, Age 13: Fake friends versus real friends


Think About It Questions

  • Why do you think kids sometimes pretend to like someone when they don’t?
  • Think of a time when a friend made a mistake that hurt or upset you. How did you handle it? How would you want a friend to respond if you made a mistake?
  • How is a limited friendship different from a fake friendship? Do you think it’s possible to like someone and enjoy their company if you only have a limited friendship? Why or why not?
  • Why does Dr. Friendtastic suggest lowering your expectations in a limited friendship? What do you think that means? How might that help the friendship? How might lower expectations help you?
  • What do you think are the essential ingredients of all friendships, whether they’re very close or more limited? (In other words, what are the basic expectations for a friendship that you should never lower?)
  • How could mind-reading hurt a friendship? What might happen if you guess wrong about what someone else is thinking or trying to do?


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

Before we get to today’s question, I want to share some exciting news: My new book just came out! It’s called Growing Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Dealing with Emotions about Friends and Other Kids. It’s a sequel to my book Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends. These funny and useful books are available through your library or wherever you buy books.

OK, here’s today’s question:

My name’s Olivia, and I'm 13 years old, and I want to know, um what are the signs of knowing that you're in a fake friendship?

Hi, Olivia. That’s a very interesting question!

First, we have to talk about what it means to be a “fake” friend. To me, that’s someone who acts friendly toward us but is unkind at other times and doesn’t genuinely care about us. So they’re not really a friend.

Some examples of a fake friend might be someone who only acts friendly when they want something from us, or someone who’s nice to our face but blabs our secrets or says nasty things about us when we’re not around, or–here’s a tricky one–someone who’s kind when we’re struggling but withdraws when things are going well for us because they feel jealous or threatened, which means they don’t really wish us well.

The word “fake” implies that they’re trying to trick us. Be careful there–that’s mind-reading! Mind-reading means assuming we know what someone else is thinking. But we can’t know for sure what’s going on in someone else’s mind unless they tell us. What we imagine they’re thinking is only a guess, and it could be wrong. It’s important to remember that.

Your question makes me think that maybe something happened between you and a friend that made you doubt whether that friend really cares about you. Now, maybe they’re a fake friend, and they were trying to trick you, but there are other possibilities.

Maybe they care about you, but they made a mistake. That happens. None of us is perfect. Maybe your friend was upset and said or did something not-so-kind in the heat of the moment. Maybe they didn’t realize whatever it was would bother you. Maybe they just did something–without even thinking–that ended up hurting you, but they didn’t mean to.

If that friend is usually kind, you may want to try talking things out. Listen to the friend’s perspective and also explain what bothered you and what you’d like them to do differently from now on.

Another possibility is that this isn’t a fake friendship; it’s a limited friendship. A limited friendship involves someone whose company you sometimes enjoy but not someone who you can count on no matter what. Not every friend is going to be a soul mate, and that’s okay. In limited friendships, kids like each other, but maybe they don’t know or like each other as much as they like other people, so there are limits on what they’ll do for each other.

If you think this might be a limited friendship, then you might need to lower your expectations. Maybe someday the friendship will grow into a close friendship, but in the meantime, don’t expect this casual friend to act the same as a close friend. Try to figure out what you can or can’t count on from this friend. Also, think about what you can give this friend without feeling used or resentful.

For instance, maybe this is someone who you can enjoy chatting with at the bus stop but not someone you can trust with your secrets. Or maybe you’ll have fun hanging out with this friend when you’re together as part of a group but you’re not close enough to invite this friend for a sleepover.

Friendships are complicated, and they can change over time. You can have and enjoy lots of different kinds of friends, but the essential ingredients of any good friendship are caring about each other and enjoying being together.

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.

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