The great Year 7 'friendship shuffle'

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

It's inevitable that the transition from primary to high school combined with the arrival of adolescence makes this a common time of friendship turbulence.

I'm not the only parent who finds seeing my children having problems with friendships as one of the most worst feelings in the world. Especially as they get older, I know that I can't make it better. No cuddle or special mum-time is going to take away the hurt of rejection or meanness in the way it could when they were younger.

As my daughter moved into high school, I knew she was not happy with her friendships. To be honest, I wasn't either. All but one of the friends of hers that I liked, and knew the families of, were going to different schools. Of those who were going with her to high school, some had already broken away from her friendship group and I could tell they were not going to be her high-school buddies.

That left two girls who I sensed were not right for her. There were hints of nastiness – towards others rather than my daughter, but enough to put me on serious guard. One of the two was already big time into social media and was using Instagram to give kids a hard time and hook up others with 'boyfriends'.

My daughter is not one to share details of her friendships. She never has – I've had to gently coax information out of her on this topic since she was young – and I have to accept that she maybe never will. I could tell that she wasn't happy and that meant that she was starting high school with minimal peer support.

I was worried enough to share my concerns with a friend who is also a teacher at my daughter's high school. To make her even more qualified, she has a daughter one year ahead of mine at school. I figured that, if there were any words of wisdom to be found, that she would be an ideal source.

Sure enough, she shared her experience – both personal and professional – of 'the Year 7 friendship shuffle'. Like a deck of cards being shuffled, she explained, kids get mixed together in various ways and, out of this, find new connections and friendships. My friend had seen her daughter and many kids she has taught go through it – and come out the other side far happier.

She told me that the shuffle usually starts a few months into Year 7 and can last either until mid-year or even half-way into Year 8. Not that friendships won't change again after that time, but this is when she's observed of the most intensive shuffling.

'Just wait,' was her advice. To be honest, though her words helped me feel calmer and less likely to intervene in some drastic way (home schooling, anyone?!), I didn't hold out much hope. My daughter has never been the most social kid and has never really had strong or close friendships.

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So, it was to my surprise and absolute joy that, by third term of Year 7, her friendship group had completely changed. It was filled with girls who, according to my teacher friend, are all lovely kids and similar in strengths and interests to my daughter.

My daughter's birthday came at an ideal time to meet them all and, apart from being overawed by their combined energy and love for all things social-media based, they were indeed delightful.

The changes seem to have happened without any dramas or bust-ups. This fits with my friend's description of gradual movement within the shuffle – more of a soft-shoe shuffle than a hip-hop dance-off.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, for I also went through – and benefitted from – the Year 7 friendship shuffle (it seems to have existed for a long time!).

Of my two best primary school friends, only one came to my high school and by that stage our differences were stronger than our similarities. Another group of girls – perhaps not too dissimilar to my daughter's new group – came to 'rescue me' and, nearly 40 years later, I am still friends with most of them. My shuffle continued into Year 8 when two others, who joined our group, became my lifelong best friends.

My newer teacher friend tells me that the only parents who aren't reassured when she tells them about the friendship shuffle are those whose children have finished primary school with tight-knit friendships. 'They worry that high school will mean the loss of these friendships,' she says. But, in her experience, these kids are also enriched by the changes.

Even when my daughter encounters friendship dramas down the road, I will always fondly remember the great Year 7 friendship shuffle. And, like my teacher friend did for me, I hope to pass on this message of strength and positivity to parents of new high-schoolers everywhere.