Mean Deviation: Nice Girl Takes a Nasty Turn
Friday, November 7, 2008
Q. I know there are some mean girls in every middle school, but I'm afraid my 12-year-old daughter has become one of them.
She was always a terrific, well-liked, easy kid -- hardworking, eager-to-please, smart, athletic and with a great sense of humor -- but last year she became obsessed with the popular crowd and deliberately worked her way into that group by straightening her hair, having a succession of "boyfriends" and wearing clothes from name-brand stores.
Many of her new friends are just flat-out mean. They talk sweetly but spread vicious rumors about one another, as they have done to my daughter, but she says she still loves them and goes back for more.
I try to be friendly with these girls, but it's hard to watch my daughter ignore her old friends. Although we have had many conversations about friendship, loyalty and values, she can't seem to get over her fascination with this edgy crowd, and now I'm afraid that they will be the first ones to experiment with alcohol, sex and drugs.
Many of these 11- and 12-year-old girls have no supervision after school, so they hang out at the park, the coffee shop or at one of their empty homes, or they walk around town on their own, and sometimes they even cross a four-lane highway. I don't let my daughter do these things nor do I let her spend the night with any girl whose parents might not supervise them well. When I do let her go, however, she always does something she's not allowed to do at home.
I know my influence is waning because my daughter keeps asking for more freedom and because she once begged me to let her move somewhere else.
She says her friends hate her for having such a restrictive mother.
I'd give my daughter much more freedom if she wanted to hang out with good girls whose parents were involved in their lives, but she says I can't choose her friends for her.
How can I keep my daughter safe and her values intact and still have a positive relationship with her?
A. Some girls get pretty mean at 11 or 12, but a good school doesn't put up with mean girls -- and neither does a good parent.
You can't, of course, pick your daughter's friends, but you can make it harder for her to hang out with the ones you don't like by keeping her much busier and by setting tighter limits, too, so that these girls won't want to hang out with her.
Until that happens, your daughter should spend the night with these friends only at her own house so you can keep them out of trouble. This rule will annoy her, of course, but let her vent, without once arguing with her about it or denigrating her friends.
Instead, you need to sympathize when she complains and tell her she'd probably be just fine if she slept at another girl's house, but you'd worry too much so you'll have to say no. That is the price she pays for being loved, you can tell her, which will be small consolation, but it will have to do.
You also should invite these new friends to your house when your daughter has some free time, so you can supervise them quietly, get to know them better and perhaps give them some good advice. They need to know that the more they gossip about others, the more other people will gossip about them; that insecure people often accuse others of having the same faults that they see in themselves; and that everyone has a reason for acting the way they do. Is Mary Jane angry because she has an angry nature -- or because her parents have split up? Does Susie say that everyone is dumb because she thinks she's dumb -- and does she think she's dumb because she's got a learning disability and doesn't even know it?
You also can help your daughter and her new friends by letting them take the test included in "Please Understand Me II" by David Keirsey (Prometheus, $16), which is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It nearly always helps children feel better about themselves, and it may even make these girls feel so good that they won't need to be mean anymore.
Questions? Send them email@example.com to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.