8 Tips for Dealing with Tween Girl Friend Drama
I knew something was wrong the second she emerged from her upstairs bedroom. I could see it on her face. She met my “what’s wrong, honey?” with instant sobs. “My friends kicked me out of the group text,” she wailed. “And I have no idea why.”
“Text one of them individually and ask what’s going on,” I urged, thinking this was sound advice.
She did. I sat beside her, looking over her shoulder as her fingers tapped away on the iPad keyboard.
The exchange went something like this:
DAUGHTER: Why did u take me out of the group chat? FRIEND: Because DAUGHTER: Can u add me back in? FRIEND: No DAUGHTER: Why not? Are u mad at me? FRIEND: Yessssssss DAUGHTER: Why? FRIEND: Bc ur rude and we don’t want to be friends with u anymore
Her shoulders slumped, and she tossed the iPad on the couch cushion next to us, sobbing into her hands. I knew how she felt, because I’d felt that way dozens of times before thanks to the drama of being a girl and having female friends. The moment you realize your so-called friends no longer want you around, feels like a punch in the gut.
In that moment, my Mama Bear instincts roared. I wanted to simultaneously comfort my kiddo, place her in a protective bubble, and chew out her bitchy little friends. But what we want to do vs. what’s best/smartest/most necessary often differ. That’s the hardest part of parenting, isn’t it?
As much as I would’ve liked to, I did not take matters into my own hands, call the girl’s parents, email her teachers, and/or tell my daughter what to do. Instead, I let my tween figure out how to proceed. Sure, I served a sounding board and coach to help her, but I also let her know that she controls her own actions and decisions surrounding her social life. As with most aspects of parenting, I’m merely the guide, not another player in the game.
By the end of the following school day, my tween had attempted resolution with the culprits. When her attempt was thwarted, she decided she’d be better off investing her time and energy in other peers. I was and am proud of her for arriving at this decision on her own, rather than returning to the group out of fear or misguided loyalty. We don’t have to—and shouldn’t—remain loyal to those who repeatedly hurt us and try to make us feel bad about ourselves, and though that can be a painful lesson, I’d much rather my kids learn it sooner than later.
I’m in my eleventh year of raising daughters, so while I’m hardly a pro, I’ve dealt with my fair share of girl friend drama, and I suspect it will only intensify with age. Here are eight ways I’ve learned to help my kiddo through the lows of female friendships:
Listen more than you talk. This one is tough, but it’s a necessary step. When my daughter storms in and announces her disagreement with a friend, I ask her to take a deep breath and then slowly explain what happened. Often during the retelling, she remembers details that help her understand where things went wrong and how they escalated. It’s much easier to take responsibility for your part of a conflict when you are the one to recognize your role in it rather than have someone else point it out to you. Resist the urge to butt in and instead ask a lot of open-ended questions that encourage communication.
Let her take the lead. Don’t minimize tween friend drama by blowing it off (e.g., “Oh, whatever, you and Sarah will be friends again tomorrow”), but don’t maximize it either (“Sarah did WHAT?! She’s never allowed in this house again!”). It’s hard to be a tween or teenager. Hormones surge, emotions constantly fluctuate, and peers suddenly take on a more crucial role in their lives. So many things in our kids’ world feel out of control, from their bodies to their schedules to their changing chemical makeup. Allow your child to take the lead when it comes to social interactions; we all feel more confident when we’re in control.
Define friendship. Ask your child to identify the qualities of a good friend—and a not-so-good friend. Which one applies to the friend responsible for the drama? If the instigator doesn’t meet the criteria for a good friend, is the friendship worth repairing? Expand on this by discussing the difference between being “friends” vs. being “friendly.” We can be kind and cordial to everyone—even those who have hurt us—without remaining friends.
Don’t see your child as a victim. This is the toughest one of all. As mamas, we love our children fiercely. It’s hard to see our children as capable of wrongdoing. But let’s face it: conflicts rarely begin because one person is 100% wrong and another is 100% right. Regardless of how the situation escalated, odds are, your child shares culpability in the argument’s origin. Admonish friends’ mean behavior, but help your daughter see the “why” behind it. Does she understand why the other parties are upset? Did she contribute to that? What could she have done differently? Teach her how to acknowledge other people’s feelings and how to apologize if necessary.
Role play. A year or so ago, my daughter found herself in a situation with a classmate who defined the word “frenemy.” The friend repeatedly embarrassed my daughter in front of friends and tried to control social dynamics such as who sat where at lunch and which friends played together on the playground. My daughter had no idea how to respond to the “friend’s” power plays. My husband and I sat down with her and brainstormed some creative ways to respond when she found herself in difficult situations. Giving your child a “script,” will provide her with the confidence to know exactly what to say in the heat of the moment without any added anxiety.
Try to remain objective. It’s tough, especially when your child’s peer drama conjures up emotions associated with painful past school experiences you thought you buried long ago, but recognize that you and your child are not the same person. Try not to let your own personality, insecurities, or hurtful past traumas color your perception or advice.
Help her see her options. Remind your child of her good points, reassure her of all she has to offer, and encourage her to maintain a wide network of friends rather than pledge her devotion to a “clique.” Friends are healthy; cliques aren’t.
Recall the big picture. Remember that the negative parts of social interaction—conflict, resolution, determining which qualities to embrace vs. avoid in others—are all necessary even though they hurt. We’re growing future adult citizens here, who will one day navigate their own friendships, marriages, and parental roles. Exhausting as it may be, these dramatic exchanges prepare our kids for real-life relationships.
I know this won’t be the last time tween/teen friend drama sneaks into my or my daughters’ lives. If I’m being honest, I know that it will likely worsen as my oldest enters into her middle school years. But no matter how bad it gets, I’ll be here to help her navigate it. That’s what moms are for.