The penchant for teenage girls to be mean to one another is a universal constant. Trends come and go, but mean girls remain. As a parent, it’s possible to help your daughter get through the mean girl years, even if you can’t get rid her of bullying altogether. And the better news is that the mean girl phase doesn’t last forever. It will take some time and some good communication, but eventually, it will end.
“It typically peaks around middle school,” explains Kim Cook, former president of the Illinois School Health Association and author of Teen World Confidential: Five-Minute Topics to Open Conversation About Sex and Relationships. “You see a lot of that happening because of the transitions that young girls are going through, as far as their physical, emotional and social growth. They are trying to find their place in the world. Sometimes, some girls will kind of fight their way to the top.”
That fight to the top can be intense. It can include bullying, actual physical fighting or emotionally abusive behavior. Daughter on the other side of mean girl behavior may not know how to cope, which makes a preventative approach from parents crucial.
How to Help Your Daughter Deal With Mean Girl Bullshit
- Have conversations about what healthy friendships look like as early as pre-school.
- Validate your kid’s feelings. Don’t dismiss them.
- Help them be more assertive by constantly prompting them to use ‘I feel’ statements. This will help them stand up for themselves more.
- Link self-worth to what a body can do and how strong it is, not what it looks like.
- Don’t be afraid to take away a kid’s phone or social media privileges if you suspect they are also bullying others.
- Don’t be afraid to help your daughter by getting her a therapist. Mental health in teens is a serious concern.
“I’m a huge proponent of starting conversations about all this stuff when kids are little, starting at even two or three,” says Cook.
She notes that parents should ask their kids what they look for in a friendship — even to the point of probing specific friendships with questions like: “What do you value about your friend? What makes her special?” If the friend gets mean someday, parent’s can go back to that question: “What is good in this friendship?” If the answer is “not much,” kids can feel better about themselves and realize that the problem rests squarely with their friend.
Parents should also remember to validate their daughters feelings, if they are the victim of a mean girl. Cook notes that it doesn’t help if parents rebuff a bullies remarks and try to smooth over insults.
“Validate your kid’s feelings,” Cook explains. “Say, ‘Oh, I hear what you’re saying. Tell me how you’re feeling about it,’ and help them work through it on their own.” Helping them work through it on their own is especially important, given that teens are hungry for independence.
Parents who want to arm kids with tools to address bullying should teach them how to respond with “I feel …” statements. These statements can help kids assert themselves and help them understand that their self worth isn’t linked to others around them. It’s also wildly disconcerting to bullies.
“If someone is mean to your kid, they can say, ‘I feel really hurt when you tell me things like that. It’s really not a kind thing to say.’ The kids who are being mean towards your child are going to back down. They can’t pick on kids who stand up for themselves,” says Cook.
A lot of teen girl bullying tends to take place in the realm of the physical. The only thing parents can do about that is by regularly helping their daughter with their body image. These conversations need to happen as early as pre-kindergarten, and are really easy to have. For example, instead of telling a young girl that she has slim legs, parents should focus on what those legs do. “Your legs are strong and help you run fast,” is a way better compliment than “Your legs look pretty in that dress.” Calling a girl pretty reduces her to her appearance. Calling her strong makes her realize that her appearance is just one thing about her.
In the end, parents should not be scared of helping their kids seek therapy if they feel it’s necessary. Supporting a daughter’s mental health is incredibly important. Mental health in teens is a huge problem. “If you have a child who is being bullied or harassed and it’s affecting her grades, sleep habits, or friendships, go get her therapy. There is no shame in that. That will help give them tools,” says Cook.