I’m a Dad Dealing With Tween Girl Drama and Let Me Tell You — It’s Not Easy
By Craig Stephens
Photo © devonpendleton/Twenty20
Oct 4, 2019
"Young girls can be vicious. I have a 12-year-old and she and her friends can be mean. Way meaner than boys."
That's what I learned from the contractor who had been helping me fix up the spare bedroom for our soon-to-be-born baby girl. "You have no idea what you’re in for," he cautioned. As I listened, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of the film Mean Girls, envisioning my future tween daughter as a naïve Lindsay Lohan up against a pack of aggressive, no-holds-barred young girls out to ruin her reputation and relationships.
Here's another story from a parent raising a daughter: How Not to Raise a Mean Girl
I snapped out of it and dismissed the thought. After all, that’s just his experience. Besides, in my day I’d known lots of mean boys and couldn’t imagine girls being any meaner. And the concept of my daughter being a tween was too far down the road to even contemplate. Except, as any parent will tell you, child-rearing years go by at light speed. Suddenly my daughter is 12 and I see her faced with the girl drama I was warned about all those years ago.
Even though my daughter has been blessed with an exceptionally wonderful group of friends, there are some scenarios that are hard to escape from. Like, for example, excluding kids from their friend group or gossiping and posting hurtful things online. It makes me want to jump into action to fix things up. But how do you make things better? How do you know you’re not making things worse? Like just about everything else in parenting, there are no fast and simple solutions. But there are a few helpful strategies that have worked wonders for me:
It All Begins with Talking
First and foremost, ask open ended questions that encourage your kid to talk about their social relationships.
I put this strategy to work a few months ago when my daughter seemed down for no apparent reason. The conversation, at first tough to get going, helped me understand her sadness — two of her friends had a falling out and one had left her group of friends as a result.
Our talk also offered up plenty of insight into her world. I was amazed to discover that my daughter’s social order is structured around “friend groups” — small tribes of five to 10 girls who hang out together and only occasionally mingle with other groups. There are the "popular girls," the "sporty girls," the "gifted girls," to name just a few.
It started to sound like any cafeteria scene from any teen movie ever.
But understanding how your child’s social life is structured provides great insight into the nature of friend conflicts and how to help resolve them.
Know Your Friends and Frenemies
Being able to tell friends from frenemies is another important strategy.
I hear stories of girls who consider friendship a power game, who want to control their groups and exclude or spread lies about girls they don’t like.
We talk about how to spot frenemies and how to interact with them.
I like to remind my daughter that we all have done things to other people that we regret.
Does you child’s friend want to control their relationship? Does her friend egg her on to bully other kids? Is the friend a control freak who insists on making all the decisions? These are just a few of the telltale signs that your child may be under the influence of a frenemy.
Knowing how to deal with negative people is a critical lifelong survival skill that our sons and daughters need to develop on their own, so I let her work it out. But if the situation gets too intense and seems to be beyond your kid’s ability to resolve, it’s time for a parent to step in. It may require sharing your concerns with the friend’s parent or engaging the school principal. In my book, intervention is the last resort and should always be appropriate for the situation you're trying to resolve. You're the parent, so you'll know when these actions are right for you.
I like to remind my daughter that we all have done things to other people that we regret. The important thing is to recognize it, apologize for it, learn from it — and move on.
Another perspective from a dad raising a young daughter: My Daughter is Beautiful and I'm Going to Tell Her So
When Friends Go Online
Like just about everything else, the internet has provided frenemies with amplified powers to hurt and embarrass their peers.
There was talk of a girl spilling the beans about her friend’s secret crush in their chat group. The frenemy claimed it was "just a joke," but the girl was mortified.
That event prompted a discussion on what you should share with another person and what you should keep to yourself.
I learned that kids these days place a great deal of emphasis on being 'relevant.'
Another time, we talked about her online world. Along with the usual lurking dangers — predators, online bullying, etc. — there are more subtle things going on that I think parents should know about. I learned that kids these days place a great deal of emphasis on being “relevant.” She explained that the more friends and followers you have on social media, the more relevance you have in the eyes of your peers.
I jumped on the opportunity to point out that a person’s relevance is measured in the difference they make in the lives of others, not by the number of likes they have on TikTok. My advice may not change her perspective, but it may get her thinking about what relevance really means. Sometimes, it takes many small steps to arrive at big realizations.
Helping Friends Learn Empathy
I try to conclude every discussion by emphasizing the importance of empathy.
"Put yourself in her shoes," I suggest. "Maybe the reason that girl is being hurtful to a friend is because she herself is hurting. Maybe you should think twice about excluding a friend just because she is having a disagreement with another girl in the group." Or, "What would you be feeling if you were in that girl’s position?"
So, are girls meaner than boys? From what I’ve seen, no one gender has a lock on meanness. Boy or girl, we all enter the world as little barbarians. Our job as parents is to help our kids grow into confident, kind and empathetic adults. And if that seems that an insurmountable item to put on your to-do list, remember, taking small steps each day will get you there.
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