Rosalyn George is a lecturer at Goldsmiths who has researched the 'the precariousness of young girls' friendships'. She studied girls aged 11 to 14 as they made the transition from primary to secondary school, watching them in the playground, talking to parents and teachers and reading the diaries that they had written for her. In this report in the Guardian, she says, 'Primary school girls tend to be regarded as compliant, getting along. I thought this wasn't right, and what I found is that young girls will hang on to the leader of a friendship group even if the relationship is destructive. The leaders are invariably bright, socially skilled and charismatic and they have an unquestioning following because for the girls on the periphery the alternative is being isolated, having no one to talk to, no one to play with. No one challenges the leader, who controls the group and sets a moral code based on loyalty. If you break that, you're out. You'd rather stay in the group than risk being lonely.'
As girls get older and become more mature, they are able to negotiate these dynamics more constructively, choosing to stay away from destructive situations. But younger girls can get caught up in damaging friendships that leave them miserable. George encourages teachers to be aware of these dynamics and to make sure they don't get caught up in them themselves, inadvertently affirming those who lead these kind of friendship groups. Youth and children's workers have a role to play as well. George has published a number of books and articles on this issue for those who want to explore further. Details on her Goldsmiths webpage.