One thing that you never get away from when raising daughters is talking about mean girls.
I have watched my own kids be excluded on a sports team and at parties. I’ve received text messages from friends about little girls who say awful things about another—to their faces, in notes, on social media. I’ve listened to gut-wrenching stories about a group of girls who stood up and left a friend’s daughter sitting alone at a lunch table over a misunderstanding and another group who said a young girl couldn’t join them at prom because she didn’t have a date even though they were friends for years.
Each time, as moms, our reactions are the same. Why is this happening to my daughter? How can I make it better? Should I talk to the mom? How should I plot my revenge (kidding/not kidding)?
But the sad truth is most parents do not have the capacity to confront mean girl behavior in our own children, and there are very few instances when parents improve the situation by getting involved.
I’m not an expert, but I believe sometimes it’s because some moms and dads find their self-worth tied up in their children, so anything that steals away from the angelic portrayal of their kids is unfathomable. Sometimes I think parents are overwhelmed, and cannot wrap their heads around the complexities of this type of vile behavior or invest the time in fixing it.
And sometimes I think the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The majority of us try to help our girls navigate these shark-infested waters to the best of our abilities. We coach on what to say and how to respond. We encourage communication and getting along. “Kindness above all else,” we say. “Don’t stoop to their level.”
But 99% of the time, the relationship ends, usually painfully for the girl who was targeted and abused.
We spend so much time encouraging our kids to repair broken friendships when sometimes we should be encouraging them to find new ones.
When one of my daughters befriended a very unpleasant girl, I worked with her to try and model positive behavior—but the result was my daughter often in tears by the actions of the other. Their relationship turned into frenemies seemingly overnight. I watched as this young girl put people down, manipulated my daughter, left her out and then lied about why, and behaved in other cruel ways.
I learned at that moment that my kid had a kind heart, perhaps even too kind, so my job was to teach her how to identify toxic people and relationships earlier. I wanted her to give people a chance, but go in with her eyes wide open.
We talked about what friendship should look like and how it should make us feel. We talked about the subtleties of mean girl behavior—the constant belittling of other girls not present, the exclusion of individuals who she claimed were friends, and the passive-aggressive comments.
I told her about times I had to quietly exit a friendship, and how my life improved once that negativity was gone. I explained how you can get along with someone you have to see every day without inviting them into your life. And sometimes, in the worst situations, there is a fallout where things get worse before they get better.
But the most important question I ask when this type of behavior comes up is, “What would you gain by keeping this friendship, and what would you lose?”
This lays all the cards out on the table. Most of the time, it helps young girls process that walking away from a friendship isn’t a failure, it’s part of keeping your mental health strong and intact. And while sometimes it can impact social standing or opportunities, finding people who accept you for who you are, well, that’s priceless.
Despite my efforts, I haven’t figured out the way to put the kibosh on mean girls, but I do think I’ve helped my kids identify toxic people earlier, and understand that sometimes leaving a relationship is the right thing to do.
I encourage my kids to choose kindness at every juncture, and that includes giving a little to themselves. I can’t save my daughters from mean girls, but I can prepare them how to handle them.