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Managing A Tween Mean Girl BFF

Managing A Tween Mean Girl BFF

By Mir Kamin

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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“J” writes:

I’ve been reading you for years and regularly comment. As my oldest starts sliding to adolescence your posts over the years have been so helpful. In particular I channel a lot of your IEP advice. (Plug for readers—check them out!)

In this particular case, my 4th grade daughter has been nurturing a friendship with “that” friend. You know the one—the one who is incredibly jealous of her BFF’s time, has a bit of a volatile temper and is kind of a “mean girl.” When we’ve had her over to our house with others, we’ve consistently had to have talks about including everyone and being kind to all. My daughter also comes home regularly upset about fights on the playground after she wanted to include another bud in play, but “that” friend got mad. Just me having vivid flashbacks to several of my traumatic friendships in my tween years?

We’ve had lot and lots and lots of talks about what makes for good friendships. That the best of friends help you feel like your best self, love you unconditionally and are generally pretty easy to get along with. We’ve talked about how diversity in our friendships helps us grow and learn new things. Beyond that, we’re generally accommodating and let our daughter make her choices. We say yes to play dates, invite the girl in question to our house, etc.

I’m really clear that as my daughter gets older, our sphere of influence diminishes—especially in her social circle. My question is this: at this stage in the game, should we be doing more? The mom doesn’t particularly respect our boundaries (late drop offs, homework not completed when promised to do so, she’s even put our daughter in her car without our permission), the friendship causes a lot of angst and I just don’t see this ending well. We could easily limit their access to one another and I would imagine at their ages time would take care of the rest.

Or, is this just a rite of passage many tween and teen girls go through and we have to give them the freedom to learn?

This one is tough, for multiple reasons, but let me start by saying that you’re dealing with two separate issues, here. The first issue is sort of a classic Mean Girl scenario, and the second one is a clash of parenting styles between you and this girl’s mother.

Personally, I find the second issue more straightforward, so let’s start with that: I think it’s reasonable at any age (and I really do mean any age—up to and including high school) to make a judgment call about the adults whom you allow in your child’s life. I am not surprised to hear that the parent here is on a different page in terms of safety and responsibility, and this is something to handle wholly apart from the rest. If it were me, I would feel uncomfortable having my child in this woman’s care, based upon what you’ve shared. So I would make it clear to my child that she will no longer be allowed to go to that friend’s house, she is under no circumstances allowed to ride in that friend’s car, etc. Stress that this is a decision you’ve made as her parents and that it has nothing to do with the friend, but with your assessment of where family rules will be respected (not there!) and how she can best be kept safe. Also stress that this is not about limiting her access to the other girl. We’ll get to that in a second, but I would assume this edict would go along with two important points: first, that she is free to blame you when turning down invitations (“My mom said no, I’m not sure why”) in the interest of glossing over the true reasoning (this would be a good time to discuss the kindness of white lies…), and second, that she have the freedom to turn a refusal into an invitation to your house, where you can keep an eye on things.

Now, as to the first issue. Could you put your foot down, limit (or end) access, and be done with this toxicity? Probably. I’m assuming your daughter is about 9 or 10, and I’d say that’s juuuuust on the cusp of when you could still get away with that sort of thing without major fallout. So sure, you could do that. But I wouldn’t. I mean, I won’t judge you if you do, you understand, but my advice is to resist that urge, and here’s why—you are absolutely correct that you’re at the top of the long, slippery slope where your control is going to diminish. And you are also correct that this other child is causing drama and unhappiness in your kid’s life, and that sucks, and I understand and sympathize with your desire to just fix it. But. But. But two things: 1) This other child is not a happy person, because happy people don’t behave this way, and this is a golden opportunity to work on the lifelong lesson of how to both have kindness/empathy but avoid being a doormat, and 2) if you drop the hammer now, your daughter is less likely to talk to you the next time this happens (and let’s face it, there will be a next time).

So what do you do? If you haven’t read it yet, I wholeheartedly recommend Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, so get yourself a copy of that ASAP. And you keep talking—it sounds like you’re off to a great start—and you start doing some practical problem-solving, too. What form that takes will depend on your particular kid and what works for her, but off the top of my head, I could see sitting down with her and starting with a “dealbreaker” discussion. At what point would she be absolutely done with this other girl? How bad would it have to get for her to decide it’s too much? This opens the door to some hard work of really thinking about feelings and boundaries, and should be illuminating for both of you. Also, what are some ways she can try responding when difficult situations arise? What is she saying right now, for instance, when the friend gets mad about her attempts to include others? What might work better? Write stuff down, while you talk, or try some role-playing. Maybe your daughter can let this other girl know ahead of time that she wants to include everyone on the playground that day, and if that’s not going to work for her friend, she’s simply going to play with others and not discuss it with her. Or if that’s too much, maybe you arm her with an arsenal of simple one-liners designed to diffuse conflict when it arises (“We can all play together, right? My mom doesn’t want me leaving anyone out” or whatever). The key is giving your daughter a safe space to practice handling a tricky situation.

I’d also be quite frank with her about where this kind of behavior comes from (stressing, of course, that you feel she’s mature enough to discuss this without throwing it in the other girl’s face the next time she makes her mad)—we use the “happy people aren’t mean to others” line here in my house a lot. Diversity of friendships and such is great to discuss, but don’t shy away from saying something like, “Remember that her bossiness and exclusion of others is about her wanting to be in control, and her being jealous, and those feelings come from an unhappiness that has nothing to do with you and is not your job to fix.” At the same time, though, you need to stress that patience and kindness have limits, and it’s up to her to decide how much she can forgive.

As hard as this will be for both of you, chances are excellent that your daughter will either find a way to resolve the tension or move on. I wish I could tell you it gets easier or it stops happening… but… yeah. It will keep happening, and it’s always hard, but as your daughter gains experience (with a really thoughtful and caring mom on her side!), she’ll be okay.

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Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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Comments

  • Maree

    I have boys so it’s different but I have lessened the impact of a tricky friendship by encouraging another more positive one.  I chose a boy my son liked and who was a good influence and went to some extra effort to invite him around more, I also enrolled my son in the same scouts group as that boy. Spending more time together strengthened their relationship and the other one dropped away. It also gave my son a knowledge of what a good friend feels like. Good luck! Follow your instincts.

    • Great suggestion, Maree! Love it.

  • Pingback: Problems I can solve | Woulda Coulda Shoulda()

  • Rebecca

    Love this advice. I certainly could have used it when I was young and will be sharing it with my daughter.

    But what do you do when the mean girl is a stepsister? They are in the same grade (2nd), in the same school, but not the same class. There are all kind of issues going on here, but still some classic “mean girl” behavior going on.

    Any advice at all is appreciated!

    • That sounds like a situation for family therapy, Rebecca. If the mean girl is family, the option to walk away doesn’t exist. (And if the parents of the stepsister are unwilling, maybe some individual therapy to help your girl cope in productive ways.)

  • Kim

    I had a similar situation happening with my third grader.  She’d been best friends with a girl since first grade,and my ADD girl is extremely loyal – once she’s got you in a spot, you stay there.  We did a lot of talking about how friends make each other feel good, not bad, and how the other girl would run hot and cold and generally treat my girl in ways my girl would never treat other girls. I came thisclose to requesting that they not be put in the same class, but they were. But we had spent the summer with other friends, and when mean girl treated mine badly the first week of school, mine shrugged it off and said “I have other friends.”  They don’t talk at all any more, and that’s just fine with me.

  • Lucinda

    We went through this when my daughter was in grade school but it was her best friend who became friends with the “mean girl” and the mean girl started pushing the friend to avoid my daughter.  It hurt my daughter a lot that her friend would allow the mean girl to do this. There was a lot of talk about why her friend would do this and her friend’s need to belong as well as why the mean girl was mean.  

    I love your line about being happy.  We used that a bit too with our daughter.  My daughter decided to kill the mean girl with kindness by politely saying hello to her every single day. One day the mean girl accidentally started to say hello back before catching herself which made my daughter laugh at how ridiculous it all was.  

    We also reminded our daughter that she had a lot of likeable traits and that likely this conflict really wasn’t about her at all. So she asked the mean girl point blank why she disliked my daughter so much.  Her reasons included my daughter’s sarcasm and self-confidence which my kid decided were pretty cool traits and said, “So she doesn’t like me for being me?  Oh well.” Because my daughter knew that ultimately the mean girl was not having fun, she was able to walk away from both girls and find a better friendship with someone else.  Not every kid is able to be so direct, but it worked for mine.

  • autumn

    My parents always told me to be ready to use them as the excuse why I couldn’t do something.  At any age, but very comforting to know I had that out, just to say, hey, if they find out it’s not good! to defuse a situation so it wasn’t me saying “no” it was me trying to avoid getting into trouble.  There was a not so friendly rap about me and my last name, but I learned to roll with it.  Best reward:  the “cool” girl told me I wasn’t cool enough to be valedictorian.  Last laugh, Mine!

    When it came time for the big drinking and driving convo, they were very straight up:  call us for a ride, and while we will be disappointed you chose to drink, the consequences will be a whole lot less than if you drive drunk.  They helped me respect myself which helped me make good decisions.  

  • Esther

    I used to be in the situation of the girl when I was around 12-13. I had that best friend, who used to put me down and criticize me all the time, especially in front of boys, while she wanted to constantly be with me and when I had to go home by a certain time, she humiliated me, saying I was such a

    mama’s girl.

    I was in distress, I used to love that girl, but the meaner she got, the more conflicted I felt, as she made my life a living hell. What I expected from my mom at that age (my dad was oblivious) was support if I got upset. I often went home crying about something my friend said, and I appreciated if my mom sympathized with me and if she confirmed to me that that kind of behaviour is unacceptable. (Which she and some other friends did do, allowing me to eventually stand up for myself and “break up” with that friend.) However, I would not have liked it if my mom had said something like “this girl is a bad influence on you” or “you are not allowed to see her again”. That would have made me rebel against my mom and pushed me towards the girl, delaying my escape.
    Wait for your daughter to come to the decision on her own, and offer support every time the friend upsets her.