Friendships and the 8-10-year-old boy?

I've been thinking a lot about the way friendships seem to be playing out in the third and fourth grades for boys.

Note: I'm not trying to exclude girls, and I don't know if things are substantively different for girls, but I don't have any girls to observe close-up. So this is about boys but not not about girls, if that makes sense. I'd appreciate data points about girls in the comments.

In these grades it's felt like the boys are constantly shifting friendships and alliances. Like two boys will be best friends one day, and then the next they will be enemies and will be friends with boys they didn't like the day before.

It makes arranging playdates difficult, since a playdate arranged too far in advance can fall apart if the boys are on the outs that day. It makes planning birthday parties difficult, too, since it's not just about who your son wants to come to his party, but whether those boys are friends on the day of the party.

I have found it all to be very hurtful to my son at the same time that I'm sure he's hurting other kids' feelings, but they don't seem to know how to stop.

Is this a testosterone surge? There has to be some sort of explanation for it, because it seemed very timebound, and seems to be starting to stabilize as the boys all turn 10.

Has anyone else experienced this? What do you think causes it? Is there something we could be doing differently to help the boys get along better?

49 thoughts on “Friendships and the 8-10-year-old boy?”

  1. My daughter is turning 10 and as I have observed in her Girl Scout troop, this is a very itchy age. They are mood-driven, and it turns on a dime. I ask her about why something happened or why she is upset, and she honestly admits she can’t even say, just that that is how she feels.My own memory of fourth grade is feeling that I was considered oversensitive but that it seemed very easy for friends to turn mean. Fifth grade was not a lot better, and I am going to totally blame it on Ten. I think Ten is just one of those ages that have to be gotten through. I miss Nine very much right now, FWIW.

  2. I highly recommend the book “Raising Cain” by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson for some fascinating insights into boys’ friendships.

  3. I have a 9 year old daughter. It’s a lot like it was in Pre-K, where there’s all sorts of unexpected “so and so is not my friend anymore” and it’s hard to figure out why exactly. Kids who she played well with in kindergarten and first grade are having trouble getting along with eachother. I do not know why – if 3rd grade (onset of state standardized high pressure testing) is a stressful year and they, like many families take it out on eachother, or if they are trying out social stuff to get ready for middle school. Who knows.

  4. Michael Thompson’s “Mom, They’re Teasing Me” (recommended by some of you lovely commenters) has some good insight into this too.It seems to be somewhat of a struggle to put yourself in the best social position possible NOT about feelings or who you actually enjoy spending time with at that age.

  5. My son turned 10 a few months ago. He’s had some trouble socially this year, but it has been more like teasing and bullying (directed at him) than a mutual mercurialness. He has a couple of close, seemingly rock-solid friendships but is in class with a group of kids who seem highly changeable in their alliances. some of whom he has known and been friendly with since preschool.After a particularly bad time over a week or so, he spoke up about being teased on the playground. A couple of kids from another class came forward on his behalf, as well. When the teacher spoke with the boys doing the teasing, some of them – the ones who my son had been closer to in past years- seemed to feel genuinely horrified by their own behavior and truly sorry for what they’d done. A couple of them wrote letters of apology to him that were seriously touching.
    It’s interesting to me that these boys who I’ve know for years could, in such a short span of time, go from being friendly to aggressively negative to contrite and friendly again. Time will tell where things will settle out, but I think there is definitely something about this age that tends to push kids to test limits with their peers.
    I’m hearing my son refer more and more to the “popular” kids, which just breaks my heart. It’s normal, I know, but it dredges up all my own unpleasant memories of those “popular” kids I went to school with, and my own realization that I was not going to be one of them. At the same time, it makes me wish (as I’m sure my parents wished) that I I could somehow impart to him the foolishness and transitory nature of this pecking order and how inconsequential it really is in the long run to a kid like him who has confidence, intelligence and empathy in spades. But all the parental advice in the world can’t take the sting out of being teased by people you thought were your friends.
    It’s a tough age, but the upside is that I think parents can find lots of opportunities to help kids use these difficult times to construct a clear picture of the kinds of friends they want to have, and, perhaps more importantly, the kind of friend they want to be.

  6. I don’t have an 8-10 year old child yet (mine are too young), but I distinctly remember 4th grade as a year of constantly shifting alliances among my girlfriends and I. It was often cruel and heartbreaking at the time but now, some 30 years later, I am still in close contact with several of those girls.

  7. I haven’t seen this yet (I have an about-to-turn-9 son), but we’re in an unusual situation here. We just switched schools, and the boy is a cautious one. It’s been sloooooowwww going to make new friends this year. Frankly, we’re happy to hear it when he mentions playing or having friendly conversations with *anyone.*What I have noticed, though, is that 3rd grade seems to be the point at which kids are transforming from “little” to “big”. They seem more like innocent little kids one day and more like sophisticated big kids the next. They go back and forth constantly. I wonder if that has something to do with the ever-shifting alliances?

  8. I remember feeling like I didn’t have the energy or attention to be friends with a lot of people at once. So if I found out I had something in common or whatever with a new person in my class, I sort of abandoned my other friend(s). I don’t remember teasing involved. The friendships that lasted were the ones my mom encouraged outside of school. I also don’t remember having much say in who was at my birthday party.

  9. Mouse is just over the lip of this age group (turned 8 this week) and is in a class with 7-10 year olds at school. She also maintains friendships with kids she met other places. I’ve noticed lately that THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE best friend. And who that is shifts from week to week; there’s a little bit of an out of sight, out of mind thing – her best friend from last year (they’re now at different schools) was absolutely off the list recently but I insisted Mouse invite her to her birthday party as she had gone to the friend’s. Since the party, that friend is queen of the hill again, and Mouse desperately wants summer camp time with her. She’s quite on the outs with another friend (a 10-year-old boy at school) from whom she’d been inseparable for a couple months. I’m really hoping she’s not hurting his feelings too badly right now – she’s furious at him for lacking persistence in a difficult activity that they were both learning together, while she (whose persistence skills have been hard and bribefully and tearfully and *very* recently won but that is a whole nother story) has managed to keep it up and nearly master the skill. I’ve asked and asked her to be nice to him about it, everyone has things that are hard for them, please remember how much she enjoyed him last month and support him. But man, it is hard for her. What is this skill called that we are helping them with?

  10. It isn’t happening with my son’s group of friends (thank goodness). There have been a few arguments and “you’re not my friend anymore!” incidents but they’ve been one-on-one and not about group-dynamics. Generally the “you’re not my friend anymore” thing will last no more than a day and everyone is on good terms again.

  11. We haven’t noticed this, thankfully, but we have noticed a lot of moodiness this year. It’s like my 9 year old is hitting puberty: he sasses, he gets angsty, he cries, he appears emotionally exhausted at times… If there IS a testosterone rush at this age, that would explain it. Maybe there’s brain stuff going on?

  12. I’m not trying to troll here, I swear – just curious. And a little deflated.You say you have no data points on whether girls behave differently, “don’t know if things are substantively different for girls”, “don’t have any girls to observe close-up”, but still the whole post is about 8 year old boys. Why would you assume that it is a gender driven thing, and not just something all/most 8-year old KIDS go through? And what of 8-year old girls who count boys as friends, or 8-year old boys who count girls as friends? Why this artificial distinction between people?
    Pre-puberty the boys vs girls difference is so small in fact that it makes just as much sense as saying ‘my 8-year old WHITE child does so and so, does your white child do that too? Oh, and by the way I have no idea about Black kids so please leave your thoughts in the comments’.

  13. As a third grade teacher I witness this all the time. Sometimes my boys are more “drama” than my girls. They are beginning to figure out the social dynamics of large groups of people. The playground is where they test the limits of friendships, loyalties, and disagreements. I find a night at home or weekend usually does the trick and all is forgotten with the boys. But I do see a lot of shifting in who they are playing with on the playground. For the boys that everyone wants to play with, it’s great…a huge circle of friends to choose from. For the ones who don’t have as many friends in their circle, I see that it leaves them a little confused when their “friend” is on to the next circle. I also think they are experimenting on what they like to do and what they are good at playing. By the time they are 10, they KNOW if they want to get out and play kickball, or football or 4 square or tetherball or whatever “Harry Potter”, “Vampires” or “Hunger Games” is popular then. These years are a little confusing for them, but they do figure it out. The girls…I think they take a little longer. I know I didn’t figure it out until college.

  14. @Chevalier, interesting point – I would guess from what I know of Moxie that she simply didn’t want to speak as if she knew something she wasn’t sure of. That said, it’s interesting that we tend to assume behaviors are gendered.I’ve noticed a big difference in Mouse’s success in making cross-gender friendships now that she’s at this experimental school. Last year, in a large single-age class at a regular (lovely) public school, people would call her out for playing with boys – or even more, call out boys for playing with girls. There were several boys whose company she enjoyed, and they would have playdates or spend a week of daycamp together, but wouldn’t play at school.
    Now, at her tiny first-year school (23 kids, ages 6-13) there aren’t enough of any given age/gender for kids to only be friends with others of their own age/gender. Which I think is nice for Mouse as an only child – she has a great relationship with a just-turned-12 boy who’s been teaching her geeky games, and the aforementioned 10-year-old boy was a bestie at least for a while; one girl about her age she adores; another she’s OK with, but there’s a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old girl that she’s really into. I guess what it does, is takes out the dynamic of everyone going through some age-related drama at the same time. I’ve always been a fan of mixed-age schooling for various reasons, I wish parents had more options for it.

  15. @Chevalier: I have two sons and a daughter (all school-age), and my own experience is that boys and girls’ friend/social experiences are quite different pre-puberty. So, I can see where Moxie would want to frame things in the context of her own observations, as a mother of sons.Having said that, I do think there are some universal things going on in 3rd/4th grades. It seems to be a time of upheaval, where (for the first time) kids are identifying themselves more in the context of their peer groups than in their own nuclear family groups. Their image of themselves in the world is defined more by their friends than by their families. It makes sense that they would “try on” lots of different peer groups while they’re sorting it all out!

  16. Our oldest son is 9. He has a lot of friends at school, but he deals a lot with jealousy of friends who do not understand why he isn’t exclusive with them. I do not think that he has a super-best buddy, because he really doesn’t seek that kind of relationship. It got physically violent a few times on playground. We live in europe, and there is definitely more acceptance of letting kids put their hand on each other here – negatively (roughhousing) and positively (hugging, holding hands). I, the american mom, went in to talk to the playground supervisor, teacher, and I called the parents of the boy who was scratching my son. it was a jealousy issue, but the whole situation was a fantastic experience for growth for all of us.I liked what Kristen said:
    Michael Thompson’s “Mom, They’re Teasing Me” (recommended by some of you lovely commenters) has some good insight into this too.
    It seems to be somewhat of a struggle to put yourself in the best social position possible NOT about feelings or who you actually enjoy spending time with at that age.
    With my oldest, I certainly see him finding cool the kids that make his life easier. Does he really like these kids? I honestly do not think so. But he sees them as advantageous social partners in the group. He constantly says that “x” is his best friend. “x” is two years older than him, one of the best athletes in school, and a bit of a bully. So I want to pull my hair out, but I keep it calm, as I talk daily to him about this boy and what we, his parents, find acceptable and don’t. One thing I have learned is to never down-talk a kid. My son despises when we do this, and it sets up a bad dynamic between us. If he likes someone, then he does. I have to focus on that child’s behaviors that we find acceptable or not for our family.
    Having different groups of friends outside of school is also helpful for us. He has sports with another group of kids and church friends. This point is perhaps the most useful of all, because this way his whole social context is not wrapped up in one group.
    data point: my boys and girls are very different in their pre-pubescent behavior. boys behaving similarly and girls behaving similarly. I read Moxie’s post to be open to everything and fail to see the gender issue problem.

  17. I have an 8 YO and an 11 YO boy, and from what I’ve seen of them and their friends, 8 is when they start figuring out that if things aren’t going well with a particular friend, maybe they need a break from each other. One of my older kids is more of a pleaser, and as a result he will keep trying longer and is quicker to forgive than the other, so his circles don’t shift as widely as the middle child’s, but they both know when something is off.I throw minimalist birthday parties, so the guest list isn’t a big deal, but planning summer camp attendance just about killed me.
    Like Chevalier, I am not a fan of layperson essentialism. I do, however, tend to ascribe a lot to birth order, so I am not immune to the siren call of overreaching explanations.

  18. I’ve been teaching 9-11 year olds for 15 years, and I see the progression of this every year play out among my students. Society generally talks a lot about girls and girl friendships and how drama-full they can be, and this is true. But what is less talked about is the drama that can occur among boys. I agree with the poster above who said a lot of it can be centered on the kids thinking they can only have one best friend – or friendships that must be at the exclusion of others – ie: if you are really my friend, you won’t be friends with him/her. This plays out across genders equally. With girls it’s based on shared commiseration – girls are learning at this point that a major way to bond is to do so over a shared problem or a shared dislike of someone or something. It’s interpersonal and emotion-based. I think they do this because it gives them a sense of power, and an “us against them” kind of feeling. With boys, they bond over skills – either academic or athletic – but it’s interest-based and not emotion-based. However, the desire to seize power over it IS emotion-based. Often boys at this age who have struggled with making and keeping friends will make this their full-time job. And the constant making and breaking of friendships is similar to toddlers testing boundaries and “practicing” skills. So yes. There is a lot of alliances being formed, broken, and re-formed out on the yard. As a teacher, it’s very difficult for me to monitor it and mediate it as they all work very hard to keep us out of the loop for fear of consequences. But the parenting skills I’ve observed over the years that work the best to help both boys and girls navigate this stage are the ones who make the process transparent. Asking lots of questions without judgement – “why do you think Jeff was acting that way?” or “Why do you think you are not wanting to be friends with him anymore?” are just the tip of the iceberg – kids DON’T always know why THEY are feeling something, but they are able to talk more generally about why PEOPLE might behave in this way. Talking about motivations, feelings, outcomes, possible revised outcomes…all of this is valuable in helping them understand what is happening around them. Our instinct is to try to fix it, stop it, or change it. We can’t. Conversations can’t be about making the behavior stop. They have to be about navigating through the behaviors, trying to talk to them about what makes a good friendship versus what makes a strategically smart friendship, and acknowledging the fact that at times in our lives, we need to make both. And always always, talking about who our good friends are, who we can trust and why we feel we can trust them, and then making sure we are being that kind of a friend back.

  19. My boy is also too young so no data points there. But personally, I don’t remember being 9/10/11 years old with much fondness. The “popular/not-popular” category was forming and quickly consolidating. I hav ea clear memory of “oh, that girl is popular…and I am not”, a clear memory of feeling excluded, a clear memory of realising that you had to be cute to be popular, and also a clear memory of realising that the boy that I thought was cute (and smart) had a crush on the popular girl. Being smart meant nothing, which was a huge blow to me! The saving grace was going into middle school at age 12 and being able to start over…of course, moving into the teens was a whole different story!In hindsight I don’t know what there was anything that could have been done…other than having to learn it the hard way and just tough it out.

  20. @ Chevalier, because the differences exist, so, to pretend they don’t in the name of, I don’t know, equality? Or something? It would be disingenuous. The differences in the 5-6 boys and girls on the kindergarten playground are obvious, even when they’re all playing the same games. Even their coloring is different, the pictures on display usually have the girl names on the pictures that are the gently shaded ones, with thoughtful details, and the boy names often show they taught that paper a lesson with the force of their crayon strokes. It makes sense that there would be inherent differences in all areas of development, and to help them navigate their world, you need solutions tailored to the child. Gender shouldn’t have any absolute rules, but to ignore it is simplistic.

  21. I related the most with what Julie the teacher said; girls this age are forming alliances based on emotions while boys are based on shared abilities.My 10-yr old has one particular friend at school who one day is his best friend and the next is his worst enemy. What they have in common (video games preferences) makes them best friends, but while my son is not athletic, his friend is, and it’s usually after an organized game that they have their fall-out.
    Thanks for posting this question, Moxie. I’ll have to check out some of the titles that were suggested and see how this all shakes out. In 7 years I’ll have to recall this and see of the girl issues ARE different.

  22. I fully support Bong Vichay He quite pcfreet MC. Handsome , very good at talking , funny, Good at English, and friendly. Last few weeks he did MC on humanitarian concert Live tv Apsara , He done pcfreet , even talking front of VIP guest M.Men Sam orn, Wish to the queen on her birthday Nothing to say with his personality. Fully support u my good MC- For sure,soon u will become Best MC in Cambodia LOVE u

  23. Thank you Torrie for taking these piutercs. I love his facial expressions. Especially his crossed eyes. Newborn piutercs are so fun. It really means a lot to me that you did this for me. You are such an amazing friend. Love ya! Now to decide which ones I want. Sooo hard!!!

  24. We used our swing up to around a year (well, weeenvhr it was that she crossed over for the weight limit). K was never CRAZY about it, but sometimes when nothing else worked I could put her in it (as she was older with a snack even) and put her in front of the TV and she would zonk within minutes. I’m not one who is pro TV watching for infants, but with an inconsolable one I did whatever worked! She was probably only in it once to twice a week though. I used it mostly to cook dinner and the like! -4Was this answer helpful?

  25. John thank you for posting the viedos. Adam’s face has sure filled out! He is adorable. Kevin looks like he is a pretty good driver. Smart kid. Miss you!

  26. I didn’t know they were swim shorts until I got them home! They are great for warm days as they aren’t too thick and I’m a sueckr for VW cars 😉

  27. anno, ive commented that on so many of their aiutsocc videos! Jack Barakat, Alex Gaskarth, Martin Johnson, Travis Clark and Paul (Don’t know his last name D:) are like my main inspirations! and Jack and Paul are deffinately twins!

  28. omg! i love picture on 2:01 its soo cute and like my fatirove movie titanic is aweosme but that picture is right before he freezes to death in the freezing water i just saw it that other night

  29. My name is Clare Elizabeth! I’ve always liked the name Beth! I like Angharad too! Welsh name, porcounned Ang- harad! I have a friend called Naseeb, Niamh, and I like Alexa too.. Was this answer helpful?

  30. Mel You just made my day. No, really. I gesapd when I saw I even had a comment, but when I saw your little face next to it I did a little happy dance! I love, love, love Adventuroo (and Momcomm) and I’m so excited that you not only checked out my little blog, but that you are my first comment EVER! Thank you for visiting, for commenting (yay!) and for writing a creative and entertaining blog that inspires me every day to learn more, write more and make amamaonamission.com the best blog I can make it.I’m off to clean the fridge!Thanks again,Andrea

  31. Friendship is a relationship between two people who hold mutual affection for each other. Friendships and acquaintanceship are thought of as spanning across the same continuum. The study of friendship is included in the fields of sociology, social psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and zoology. Thanks.

  32. Study your self and you value system so that you may acquaint your self with your inclinations before you start overloading your life with other people’s lives. This will give you a measured approach to friendships. Thanks for sharing information.Regards,

  33. This unrealistic approach will sap your energy and draw your focus from more important things. Remember that the goal of organizing is to live your life the way you choose, while setting up your home and schedule to support you.

  34. Many Arabian people perceive friendship in serious terms, and will deeply consider personal attributes such as social influence and the nature of a person’s character before engaging in such a relationship. Thanks.

  35. Friendship is a relationship between two people who hold mutual affection for each other. Friendships and acquaintanceship are thought of as spanning across the same continuum. The study of friendship is included in the fields of sociology, social psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and zoology. Thanks a lot.

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