As tweens or pre-adolescents move towards the teens they test boundaries with those they are closest to…their family. They push back against rules and test the waters outside of the immediate family unit and move towards the ever-important peer group.
And the peer group can be tricky to navigate. It can be a haven of connection and belonging. But it can also be cruel and nasty place of exclusion.
If your daughter has never experienced mean girl behaviour or has been a bit oblivious until now, it won’t last for long.
Girls friendships tend to have a hierarchy. Unwritten rankings that the girls establish through their behaviour. Usually, the girl at the ‘top’ is the one who makes a lot of decisions for the group. Sometimes this role just naturally evolves, however as time passes, and the girls mature, this position can be challenged. The challenge may be intentional or the girl ‘at the top’ perceives a threat from someone in the group and this is where the friendship roller-coaster ride starts.
In order to be at the top of the hierarchy, or in the exclusive inner circle of the one in charge, you need to earn your place. And these exclusive places are earnt through proving your loyalty to the one in charge.
So how does the one at the top (or those in the exclusive inner circle) maintain the exclusive positions? There are many different ways they can hold onto it and it’s usually not done through good intention. A brief list of common strategies include:
- Deliberate exclusion: This can be easily visible and easy to spot, or, the more experienced the girls become, so do the ways they creatively exclude in order to cover it up with excuses or well meaning intention if questioned by adults. Examples include, “I didn’t know that she wanted to play with us” or “I was just kidding, we were playing”. Yes, sometimes these are legitimate, but if the issue is ongoing, there’s usually something bigger at play.
- Body language including in the classroom (and yard) when they think adults aren’t watching. This includes, eye rolling, mouthing words to their closest friends across the room.
- Friends yesterday but not today. This is a form of control and it is toxic. It’s not how a real friend behaves yet it can become common. It’s a way the girls ‘in charge’ keep others guessing. While they are doing this they have ‘control’ of the group.
- Rumours or gossiping or asking others in the group not to play with someone. This is another form of exclusion. By excluding the ‘threat’ they can no longer be a threat to the top job.
- Keep their inner circle tight- the top of the social group will remain tight. There will be one or two girls, that the leader keeps close. This is intentional as it ensures she has a loyal support crew. A close, trusted few who deliver messages and support her role as the leader. Often however, these girls may not be aware of the role they are playing.
- Being seen to have it all. Maintaining an outer image of uber-cool and totally put together.
So what can you do as a parent?
Firstly, if you become aware of your daughter behaving in this way. Call it. Name it. And hold her responsible. Underneath the need to exclude others and prove her position ‘at the top’ is an underlying feeling of not being good enough. So once it’s been called and named, she needs love. She needs connection and she needs to understand and practice ways to build friendships in respectful ways. Ways that respect her and her strengths and ways that support and build up others also.
If your daughter bears the brunt of this type of behaviour, listen to her. And listen with the intention to understand and empathise, not fix it (helping her fix it comes later). Seek first to understand.
Then, make it crystal clear to her how REAL FRIENDS behave. ALL THE TIME not just when it’s convenient. If your daughter doesn’t actually know how a true friend behaves, if it’s never actually been verbalised and made clear to her through examples and easy to understand conversation, often tweens just assume that manipulation and friendships with conditions are ‘normal’ because it has been their experience. If they have never had anyone actually articulate to them what they can expect from a true friendship, how do they know?
Secondly, let her know that she deserves to be treated with respect. With age most individuals learn to put boundaries up around friendships. For example, if you feel a friendship is all one way and your ‘friend’ never reciprocates you may set some boundaries and pull away a little or invest your energy elsewhwere. Or if you have a friend that has ignored you in the street one day but then wanted to go for a coffee the next day, you might call them on it or choose to spend time with those friends whose behaviour is consistently supportive. You have learnt that it’s ok to make these choices. Tweens and teens need to have this pointed out to them. Explicitly. Repeatedly.
Encourage a wide and diverse network of friends. Encourage interactions with friends outside of the tight, school group she might have created. Show her that there are many other people who see her beautiful qualities and love her for who she is. Even too, if this is strong female mentors like aunties or your best friend. Help her build supportive networks, while she is learning how to build them for herself.
Teach her that she is allowed to be assertive. Show her how to use it responsibly.
These are complex life lessons, but there is no need for our girls to have to wait to learn these skills. Imagine how much more enjoyable her tweens and teens could be if she actually knew how a friend should behave now? What if she learnt early that exclusion, manipulation and disrespect were never acceptable and are never ways that true, loyal friends behave.
Well she can, Powerful Me is designed to explicitly explain friend behaviour. She will clearly understand what a friend is and how they behave. She will get the message that she deserves to have true friends and it is safe for her to expect others to treat her well. It will give you conversations to build on with her and refer back to when you notice that her friendship dynamics are changing.
Powerful Me is also designed to build her self awareness. To help her see how valuable she is. That she is good enough. That she deserves the best.
Your daughter does not deserves frenemies or toxic friendships, she deserves loyal, lasting, fulfilling connections that build her self esteem and feeling of belonging.