Mean girls are a normal part of school, but don't let your kids fall prey to the drama.
Does your daughter live in a world of jealousy, gossip, and judgment? Are you sick of the drama? Is she constantly on her phone texting to the point of obsessive behavior? Does she snap at you and others? Is she easily frustrated and irritable? It is possible your daughter is caught up in the mean girl cycle and needs your help to change the pattern.
The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America (and the world), conducted a survey. The survey ranks the values parents believe are important in raising children today. The most notable finding regarding mean girls and persistent drama around preadolescent (and adolescent) girls, is that empathy, curiosity and tolerance scored significantly lower than other values—responsibility and hard work. Obviously, being responsible and hard work are amazing qualities for our teens to embody and are necessary for their future success, but are we raising competitive, self-centered hard workers?
Here are six tips to keep in mind as you are raising responsible, hard working teens; be sure they understand and live the values of tolerance, empathy and curiosity:
1. Be aware.
This may be the hardest step because it means you are willing to dive into the messy, ugly, endless pit of girl drama. It doesn't mean it has to excite you or cause you stress, it means be aware of the drama so you can move on to the next steps; teach your daughter how to be a tolerant, empathetic and a curious teen. Be involved; ask questions; follow up on what happened yesterday, or how she handled a situation.
Often, parents are overwhelmed with the details of a teen's everyday life. It can be hard to keep up. Without following every social media update, you are often a thousand paces behind before you even have a cup of coffee in the morning. So, go ahead, have a second cup and hang on for the ride. Be aware and willing to dive in.
2. Call her out.
Respond to her meanness. Point it out at home with siblings, from stories you hear, and actions you are now aware she is taking. Tell her that sounded mean, and give her consequences for being nasty to her siblings. Sure, an outburst here and there, or a straight up screaming match at 6:42 am about which sister actually owns that jacket, is to be expected. But nasty language and meanness for the sake of meanness is not okay. If they use those words and tone at home, they will use them out in the world.
3. Empower her.
Most mean girls are desperate to fit in. They are at the top of that girl drama and they don't want to get shoved in ... nobody does. If they are somehow at the top of that pit, they are forced to behave badly just to save themselves. If others start to climb out, they will be tempted to push them back down. They are afraid; they are very afraid that if they don't stay sharp and ready, they will get eaten up by the ugliness of meanness themselves.
Give them new tools and new skills for staying out of the pit—skills to support others in getting out, too. Show them they have power in their words and in their behaviors. Junior high school does not have to be a giant pit of ugliness; it can be a wide-open space where every kid can have friends. The jealousy and judgment is what throws them all into the pit and forces competitive, self-preservation behavior.
Empower your teen to understand jealousy; show her how to support her peers and find genuine happiness for them; help her be curious about others rather than judgmental. Ask question like, "what makes her different? What is she really good at? What do you admire about that girl?" Your daughter doesn't need to be best friends with every other girl at school, but why not give her the power to see good in every person? What a great life skill.
4. Teach by example.
Despite the fact that your teen probably acts like she knows it all, she does not. These years are for learning who she is, and what she stands for, and that is done by learning about values—complicated, hard values.
Teach her how to make friends, keep friends and leave friends; those are skills women need their whole lives. The average adult friendship lasts seven years. She will change friends, she will stay close forever with some, but she will make new friends throughout her lifetime. Show her how to grow apart kindly.
Show her through your own friendships, and model healthy friendships yourself. Model making new friends and talk about it with her. At dinner, talk about a new person you met who you are curious about and how you are going to make a connection. Talk about your high school friends and things that happened through the years with your own friendships. These are all teachable moments.
5. Stop social media communication.
Teens are developing a fine understanding of the nuances, innuendos and the subtleties of communication. Now, teens now have to add communication through social media to the list of unique skills. They no longer have face to face feedback for much of their communication. Body language and other cues to communicating, besides the actual words themselves, can be up to 90% of communication.
Our teens are often left with abbreviations within a text to communicate with friends. They don't stand a chance to understand one another and develop deep friendships. Stop guessing or assuming and have real conversations yourself. Encourage them to have real conversations, too.
6. Start something.
Get your daughter involved in something bigger than just their peer group. Invite girls other than just their main friend group to do something together. Perhaps the neighborhood teen girls are all invited to a book club, or a running group; maybe plan some experiences for a group of girls from church, the old school, or daughters of your own friends.
Find more girls, different girls, and offer your daughter a chance to know them without all of the pressures of that messy pit of girl drama at school. Maybe you sew, or a neighbor mom is a makeup consultant, or a baker? Start something; it could grow into a lifetime friendship. Rekindle old friendships and simply be a place your daughter can be tolerant, empathetic and curious about herself, and all that life has to offer beyond the drama.