With the recent news that Wimbledon High School is giving teenage girls extra support to cope with toxic friendships, via an education consultant, some might say the world has gone mad. After all, humans have been making and breaking friendships for millennia without needing guidance, long before the terms 'teenager' or 'consultant' came into use. Besides, we all know being a teen involves quite a bit of this drama as standard; it's a rite of passage they'll grow out of, surely?
However, those of us who left school some years ago had it lucky. The ever-increasing strength of social media has added fuel to the fire of the usual teenage tiffs. My teenage years involved clunky mobile phones that could only hold 13 texts (why 13? Why not at least an even number?!) and conversations were held on MSN Messenger using dial-up internet. Oh, that pesky dial-up noise of doom. I could make educated guesses that someone had accidentally-on-purpose forgotten to invite me to a party yet again, but I didn't have the x-ray vision granted by today's technology, where teens can bombard each other with minute-by-minute updates of the fun they're having or the aggro they're unleashing. It's daunting for anyone, let alone for young girls.
Things done or said in haste are now painfully permanent, left in cyberspace for everyone to dissect in minute detail, and there are always accompanying pictures to make others feel worse. Young people are fantastic early adopters of technology, but they don't have the emotional resilience to cope with the fall-out when feelings get hurt along the way. Girls, in particular, seem to be experts at internalising this upset. By identifying the unhealthy parts of a friendship, you can break the silence, quell any toxic traits of your own, and start building new, healthier relationships.
Sadly, dodgy friendships aren't just confined to the playground years; you can encounter a frenemy in the office, the gym or in your local pub. Some of the most turbulent friendships I know of are between teachers, not pupils - the staff room could well be as much of a battleground as the classrooms. Learning to spot the warning signs early on will stand you in good stead for decades to come. The only difference in adulthood is that you might dig out a psychological term or a self help mantra to better understand why another woman wants to undermine you or bleed you dry. It's not simply a case of knowing when you've been ostracised from a group, but knowing when you're somebody's lapdog and finding the strength to walk away from a friendship that cripples your self-esteem.
Friendship lessons are useful far beyond your playground years (unlike algebra lessons,which most of us never needed again...).
Everyone from the New Statesman to Oprah has covered the trauma of broken adult friendships; hell, even Buzzfeed considers it click-worthy, so we're all looking for answers. Maybe if we'd covered these kind of monumental issues in our PSHE lessons, perhaps sandwiched in between struggling to perform CPR on Rescusci Anne and composing raps about STI symptoms (or was that just in my school?!), we wouldn't still be soul-searching in adulthood and we wouldn't cling onto people who damage us.
Whilst female friendships are intense for any teenager, they're also pretty darn important whatever your age, so it makes sense to unpick the issues surrounding any rifts. Perhaps Wimbledon High School's consultant should take a toxic friendship roadshow around Britain, so we can all soak up a bit of that wisdom.