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Teaching Your Daughter the Difference Between Friendly and Flirty

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Our neighbor’s son came to drop off some books his mom sent over. My daughter came rushing down the stairs to answer the door, but I made it there first. She stuck around and batted her eyelashes and chatted with him. It’s normal for her to be chatty, but something about this interaction seemed different. The way she moved her shoulders and flipped her hair while he spoke…

She was downright flirting, but I don’t think she knew it. I went through a similar phase of crossing that thin line when I was younger. Where did that line come from, how did I keep crossing it, and how can I help my daughter understand that she was crossing it? I went straight to the experts and had an ah-ha moment. Here’s what I discovered along with 3 ways to help your daughter recognize the difference between flirting and friendly.

Here’s why girls flirt even when they’re young.

Clinical psychologist Jennifer Powell-Lunder teaches that tweens don’t actually understand flirtatious behavior and what it is that they are communicating. They’re starting to be able to think abstractly. That means they’re becoming aware of how other people see them but are not necessarily aware yet of the impact their actions have on others.

According to Powell-Lunder, our girls are often just imitating what they see. Their flirting is a learned behavior from social media and TV shows. So, if your daughter is watching a show that has girls acting flirty and being socially rewarded for it, your daughter likely will imitate the behavior when the right social cues occur.

So, what’s a mom to do? Well, before you cut the cable (or Wi-Fi), try these three things:

1. Discuss it with her.

Tell your daughter that being flirty is when she is focused on gaining something for herself and being friendly is when she focuses on the other person. That’s the big difference between flirting and friendly. Flirting is when she is making herself seem cute to gain attention, and being friendly is when she’s focused on just getting to know the other person.

I’ve asked my daughter, “When you’re talking and moving your shoulders like this, or batting your eyelashes and flipping your hair, who are you really focused on at that moment?” The answer is herself.

2. Show it to her.

Especially among girls who develop early, it’s important to make them aware of flirtatious behavior so people don’t start treating them like they’re older than they are. Here’s a practical way to bring up this conversation: When you’re sitting with your daughter watching one of her favorite shows, begin pointing out flirtatious behaviors when you see them.

Talk about the character’s body language and also point out how others respond. Giving her this perspective can help her be more mindful of the difference between flirty and friendly when she’s in the real world.

3. Ask her questions.

Giving my daughter a chance to answer questions helps her think critically. The golden question I’ve asked my daughter? “What do you really want when you’re acting flirtatious?” The answer? It’s attention. Attention has always been a currency for teens, but it’s exchanged and compared on greater levels today than ever before.

My daughter has admitted to being jealous that boys in her class like other girls. She wants that attention too. Teaching our daughters the difference between flirting and friendly will help them live in this world confidently without the pressure to maintain the attention of others.

Have you noticed your daughter mistaking flirty for friendly? How do you help explain the difference?


How do you feel when a boy or girl smiles at or says hi to you?

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