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Mean girls, tween girls: What parents can do

Lisa Steinke, with Liz Fenton, is the co-author of the debut chick lit novel l'll Have Who She's Having and the popular Chick Lit blog chicklitisnotdead.com.

Taking the mean out of your tween's social circle

It starts young. Your child comes home crying because Susie ditched her to play with Annie at recess. She told her that what she wanted to play was "stupid." The next day, they are back to being BFFs but you cringe knowing that it won't be long before Susie strikes again. Before you know it, your daughter is a tween and the "mean" is just getting worse.

Why are they so darn mean?

Many moms may not be able to remember what they ate for breakfast this morning, but ask them about middle school and they can recount stories at the drop of a hat — especially the tales of those nightmare mean girl Queen Bees — the same kind that are now targeting their daughters.

The Bee might be different, but the mean still hurts just the same.

So why, why, why do they do it?

“Mean girls are mean because it works,” according to Jen Hancock, author of The Bully Vaccine. “It gives them power over other kids.”

So how can you help stop the mean girl?

It can feel so helpless to watch your daughter struggle with a mean girl. And you just want to know how to make it stop. But how? Even though you might be tempted to go to the school, wait by the locker and give that girl a talking to, experts agree your child needs to handle it. But she does need your help getting prepared.

Take away the mean girl's power

“You take away that power by refusing to be hurt by what they are doing,“ says Hancock.If your child is called stupid, for instance, she can say something like, 'thank you for that information, it's very helpful' in as bored and sarcastic a voice as possible. The child needs to practice saying these words at home several times to be ready for the next time it happens. You need to let your child know they are going to have to say this several times before the mean girl gives up and finds someone else to hassle.”

You can also give your child this script:

Dr. Soroya Bacchus suggests that your daughter say this:

“I feel truly sorry for you. You must be incredibly insecure to have to resort to treating others like this as a way to feel better about yourself.“

Dr. Bacchus then advises that your daughter simply walks away. “This can be a wake-up call for the mean girl and perhaps prevent her from treating others the way you have been treated in the past. Then, you can leave knowing you are the bigger person and continue being a positive force in the universe,“ adds Bacchus.

Help your child develop compassion for the mean child

The harsh words aren’t really about your daughter

“Many times, girls take the harsh words or actions of others literally and assume something is innately wrong with them. However, in most cases, the ones who are being mean are the much more insecure and unhappy than they appear to be on the outside,” says Bacchus.

Across the board, experts also agree that your daughter should try to feel for the mean girl. Say what? Feel bad for her after she’s been so mean? Yes.

“Often the mean girl is jealous and scared and that is why they behave as poorly as they do. You need to help your child realize that the mean girls' behavior is all about the mean girl's insecurities and it really has nothing to do with your child at all. They are just a convenient way for the mean child to work out their insecurities,” says Hancock.

“The compassion and feeling sympathy for the mean girl doesn't mean what they are doing is OK, it just means you aren't going to take what they do personally because it's not really about you even though it is directed at you.“

Boost your teen girl's self-confidence >>

Time to move on and make new friends

“Ultimately, the best solution is to help and encourage your child to make friends with other kids so that they are less dependent on the mean girl,” suggests Hancock.

Jennifer Little, Ph.D., a pre-K through 12 teacher for almost 40 years with 12 years at middle school adds, “I have told the students that they will continue getting the same results if they don't change their behaviors, and that change has to come from them. If they don't want to continue getting the same results, it is change or drop the friendship.”

Helping teens form real relationships >>

Delete her number. Don’t respond to texts. In a nutshell, ignore.

Avoiding interactions with mean girls is the No. 1 thing that young women can do,“ adds Bacchus. “Surrounding yourself with friends who are a good influence, have your back and support you is crucial as well. When you do this, you lay a foundation for developing relationships with people for the rest of your life.“

Read more about dealing with mean girls

Mean girls rule the school? Help your daughter deal
How to deal with mean girl cliques
Helping your teen make positive friendships

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