Advice from the Trenches: Mean Girls

Dear C and Dr. B;
Help! My daughter and her middle school best friend, Jeanne, were both in the artsy group and at the time they were both picked on by the in crowd. Since they’ve entered high school, things have changed. My daughter has actually joined the in crowd. She’s now friends with a lot of the same kids that used to pick on her and Jeanne. Now Jeanne feels betrayed. They aren’t speaking to each other.  

I feel like I am in a coming-of-age movie and it is surprising just how accurate they are. Blow by blow, this scenario I am watching is playing out like Mean Girls. So, what am I supposed to do? Intervene? We all know how these things end. And just like in the movies, the in crowd comes with this snotty, dismissive attitude. Another problem here is that over the years I had become good friends with Jeanne’s mother, and now it is like crossing the picket line to suggest that I might still hang out with her. What is the right thing to do?
Tina Fray


Dear Tina,

The literature is all over the place with stories like this. In the book 12 Rules To Life, Jordan Peterson suggests that if you don’t domesticate your kids, society will do the job for you and it will be far harsher. He believes you should not let your kids act in such a way that you end up hating them. In her book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions, Lisa Damour Ph.D. takes the opposite approach and proposes unconditional positive support. She feels adolescence is a hormonal and cultural tsunami and the parent’s job is to be the adult, weather the storm, and be supportive.  Personally, my wife and I disagree on these issues. She leans toward the Untangled approach – let them figure it out themselves. My stance is: They shouldn’t be assholes. What I can wholeheartedly say, in my professional role, is that role modeling is important. You certainly should maintain your relationship with your daughters’ ex friend’s mother. 

C says: I have some questions. Is the in crowd still picking on your daughter’s friend? Or have they stopped? What kind of behavior is your own daughter exhibiting toward her old buddy Jeanne? If your daughter tried to stay friends with Jeanne, and Jeanne chose to run away because her feelings were hurt, that’s one thing. But if Jeanne is still getting harassed, and especially if your daughter is joining in, this makes for a very different situation. The social pecking order of high school can generate some very negative behaviors by kids who see themselves as the school’s elite. If this is not the kind of behavior you want for your daughter, don’t encourage anything about it, and especially don’t let her dictate your own behavior. I would most definitely maintain your friendship with Jeanne’s mother. This sends a clear message that you do not recognize or condone social snubbing or bullying.

As far as intervention though, I would leave the situation between the groups alone. You can’t tell teenagers anything. If you recall the movie Mean Girls, the in crowd maintained their snotty entitlement until their ring leader finally got flattened by a truck. There is little short of catastrophic shock that will dissuade a teen’s dismissive attitude, so you may have to let nature take its course on this one. Trust me, eventually the Mean Girls will get their comeuppance. But as for your own daughter? If she is on her way to becoming a Mean Girl herself, I would, in the privacy of your own home, tell her exactly how you feel and why. She will act like she’s too cool to care, but she will still hear you. And later on, in the privacy of her own head, she may consider what you said. I’d like to point out something else about the movie Mean Girls — in the end they all turned on each other. This could happen to your daughter, too. If your she suddenly finds herself back on the other side of the social dividing line, it might help her to know that she doesn’t have to process it alone. This is when an understanding mom can save the day.

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