Helping your Daughter Deal with Mean Girls
Gossip. Name calling. Exclusion. Rumor spreading. Cliques. Backbiting. Manipulation. Cyberbullying. Sadly, the adolescent girl world is full of mean-spirited, controlling behavior that can significantly hurt others’ feelings or cause psychological harm. Your daughter may come in contact with any number of mean girls in her adolescent life, and when she does, it’s hard to know what to do. Here are some tips:
What Parents Should Do
Stay calm. Most of us are angry when we hear someone has been spiteful to our child, and our first instinct is to get involved and fix the problem. However, that strategy does not serve our daughters well. Sometimes our involvement can make things worse, but more importantly, we are taking away the opportunity for our daughter to learn how to solve problems and become more resilient. She will face social challenges throughout her life, and while a conflict can be difficult to watch our child struggle through, it is a great learning experience for adulthood as long as her safety is not in jeopardy. It’s better that she goes through this challenge while she has your guidance and support than to have to handle it on her own in college or adulthood. Finally, recognize that our daughters often want and need us a resource and a support, but don’t always want our intervention. If you try to “fix” her problem, she may not come to you with her next one.
Get more information. We can often jump to conclusions when we hear our daughter is hurt, but we need to recognize that there are two sides to every story. First of all, it’s possible our daughter might have done something hurtful first that precipitated the situation. Second, you can’t respond properly to the situation until you understand the circumstances and extent of the mean behavior. On one hand, recognize that not every insult or slight constitutes bullying. On the other hand, there’s a big difference between spreading rumors and threatening bodily harm. If your daughter’s safety is at risk, you should get involved. The point is that, when your daughter tells you about mean girl behavior, it’s very important to ask lots of open-ended questions to gather information so that you know what you’re truly dealing with.
Validate her feelings. Every person reacts differently to situations. No matter what your daughter’s emotional response is, let her know that it’s ok she feels the way she does. Tell her you understand that she feels embarrassed or upset or angry. Let her talk; listen to her without offering advice. You might think she is overreacting to not being invited to a party, but remember that this is a big deal to her. You might think she is not being assertive enough to someone’s name-calling, but remember that she might be truly frightened. The most important way you can help your daughter is to empathize with her situation. Let her know that she does not deserve to be treated the way she is being treated. Reinforce all the positive things and strengths she has to offer the world.
Give her perspective on mean girls. Mean behavior can be so shocking, it’s hard to imagine why someone would act that way. Help your daughter see that mean girls are typically selfish and insecure. Much of their behavior is a desperate attempt to become, or stay, popular. While some of their aggressive meanness might appear brave, it’s actually an act to hide their fears. This knowledge may help your daughter feel less intimidated.
Give her perspective on real friends. If your daughter’s mean girl is a frenemy – someone your daughter calls a friend, but who rarely acts like one – then you need to help your daughter identify the qualities she should be seeking in a friend. Real friends will encourage her, want the best for her, and celebrate successes with her. On the other hand, a frenemy is dishonest, controlling, competitive and jealous, manipulative, and likely to start gossip, cut her down, randomly exclude her, or give a backhanded compliment.
Encourage problem solving. Move your teen from complaining about the situation or feeling sorry for herself to positive action! Ask your teen what she can do to improve the situation. More than likely, you will get the teenage shrug and “I dunno.” Push her a bit: ‘Aww, c’mon, you can think of something… just one thing.’ Encourage her to brainstorm with you – she comes up with an idea and then you throw out an idea. This exercise helps her to see that she has options and regain some control. If you’re not sure how to talk about problem solving, please read our previous blog Teaching Problem Solving Skills.
What Your Daughter Should Do
Project confidence. This is a tough one for teenagers, who frequently feel insecure, but it definitely works. Mean girls, and other bullies, tend to look for vulnerable targets, and they often have a natural ability to determine who they can control and manipulate. Slouching, passiveness, or downcast eyes makes someone appear weak and an easy target. Good posture, walking with a purpose, smiling, speaking with a strong voice, and making eye contact with people shows a confident attitude. If your daughter acts confidently, but is still targeted, she should be assertive in her response. Many people mistakenly confuse aggressiveness with assertiveness, which is not true. Aggressiveness is behaving in a hostile way. Assertiveness is standing up for your right to be treated fairly and/or advocating for yourself in a clear, direct and honest way that is positive and proactive. Read our previous blog, 5 Ways Parents Can Teach Assertiveness to Teens.
Walk away. Teach your daughter that, in every situation, we can only control our own response. Your daughter should do her best to avoid the mean girl. If she does interact with the mean girl, then no matter what the mean girl says or does, let your daughter know that her best response is to stay calm and free of emotion. Walking away from the mean girl is often a great way to de-escalate the situation, and shows strength. Mean girls generally want an audience, so if your teen won’t stick around, she loses her show. This is also true if your daughter is a bystander to mean behavior. Standing by and saying nothing communicates that the mean behavior is acceptable. If your daughter walks away, she is taking away the mean girl’s power without being confrontational. Advise your daughter to simply act like she does not have the time of day for the mean girl or her behavior.
Find a group of friends. If your daughter is being targeted by a mean girl, one of the best ways to deal with these situations is to have friends around her so that she is not alone. If the mean girl is someone your daughter once thought was a friend, she needs to find new friends. Encourage her to identify girls at school she thinks are nice and invite them over.
Focus on school or an activity. Teens are notorious for obsessing over what everyone is saying and doing and allowing the latest drama to impact their everyday lives. Instead, encourage your daughter to take back the control of her life by focusing on things she does have control over like her school performance or an extracurricular activity she enjoys. Besides, if she is busy with school and activities, she should have less time for social media, which is one of the areas where mean girls thrive.
Develop healthy coping. Teens need to develop healthy coping mechanisms and positive stress management skills. Teens who do not have these skills turn to risky behaviors, such as drugs or self-harm, to cope. Adults need to provide them with healthy alternatives. Talk to your children about stress-relief. If you don’t know what to say, read one of our previous blogs, Teaching Teens Stress Management or Developing Coping Skills in Teens.