One of the most challenging parts of parenting tweens and teens is teaching them how to deal with bullying. Unfortunately, bullying is a fact of life for our kids, especially since the rise of social media use among tweens and teens. Even if your child hasn't experienced it directly, they've likely witnessed it being perpetrated on other kids. For young girls, this is often in the form of mean girls. You know the ones, right? You probably dealt with a few mean girls in your own adolescence. We often think of girls as the kinder, gentler gender.
But mean girls throw that stereotype into a tailspin. Mean girls can be downright vicious. They're manipulative and controlling and it can be so difficult for our young girls to deal with them. Especially when the mean girl is someone she considers a friend, or at the very least is someone in her social circle. While our instinct is to swoop in and protect and defend our girls, it's so important that they learn the tools for dealing with mean girls on their own. Here are some tips for helping your daughters cope.
First and foremost, it's important to validate your daughter's feelings.
Empathy goes a long way, and your daughter needs to know that you understand how she's feeling. She needs to know that she isn't the problem, and that she doesn't deserve to be treated the way she's being treated. Emphasis her positives, so she's not focusing on the negative things the mean girls have said about her.
Confidence is a great bully deterrent.
Make sure that your daughter knows how wonderful and amazing she is, and that she feels confident with herself and who she is as a person. Mean girls will look for weakness they can exploit and prey upon, and a confident, smiling girl is not someone they will try to victimize. They're looking for an easy target, and if your daughter stands tall, speaks with confidence, and doesn't react to their actions, they'll soon learn that she's not someone to toil with.
Try to keep the emotion out of her responses.
Mean girls are trying to get her goat, and get a reaction out of her. Yelling, crying, cowering, or even silence can show them that they got what they were after. She can't control what mean girls say to her, but she can control how she responds. A calm voice, free of emotion, shows mean girls that their words and actions didn't have the desired effect. If she needs to walk away because she can't respond without emotion, that's OK too!
Don't be a bystander.
Even if your daughter isn't being targeted by mean girls herself, she may unwittingly be encouraging their behavior and attacks on another girl. When she sees mean girl behavior, she should speak up, or walk away. Taking away their audience is a great way to shut down mean girls, since much of what they do is for attention and to assert some kind of authority. By taking away their audience, she's taking away from of their power.
Find a new group of friends, and cut ties with the mean girls.
This one can be so hard, since mean girls are often close friends. But make sure your daughter know that if her friends are exhibiting any kind of mean girl behavior, they are in no way her friends. But our friends shouldn't hurt us, and they shouldn't make us feel inferior or bad. So if there's a mean girl in your daughter's circle, it's time to find a new circle. If enough of the good friends defect, it's crippling to a bully.
Encourage her to report mean girl behavior, and confide in you or another trusted adult.
These types of situations can be so hard for young girls. They're not necessarily equipped to deal with some of these more adult scenarios and behaviors, and their developing emotions and coping skills might not be enough. Their self-esteem can take a major hit, and pretty soon they're believing some of the mean things these bullies are saying. Encourage your daughter to report mean girls and bullies to a teacher or counselor at school, so they are aware that it's happening. And check in with her regularly, so she knows that no matter, you are on her side and will help her through this.