Mean girls rule the school? Help your daughter deal

May 31, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

Whether on the elementary school playground or on a high school campus, cliques are a powerful way for groups of girls to exclude others. How can you help your daughter deal with the clique at school?

What if your child is part of the clique? Keep reading for ways to discuss these powerful groups and how hurtful they can be.

What’s up with girls?

The media is overflowing with mean girl story lines on reality shows like Jersey Shore or dramas like Gossip Girl. Why have these aggressive girls become such role models for our tween and teen daughters? According to Rachel Simmons, author and co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, “The behaviors they exhibit are seen as a kind of confidence. These girls tell people what they really think, and they are often actually very cruel to others, but the girls who are watching mistake that kind of behavior for confidence and power.”

How to help boost your daughter's self-esteem >>

Girls bully differently

While typical bullying behavior amongst boys involves shouting, name-calling and physical altercations, most of the girl-bullying situations fly under the radar because there is no physical component. “Girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict psychological pain on victimized targets,” Simmons writes. “They flash looks, pass notes, and spread rumors.”

The use of behaviors to affect relationships and inflict emotional damage on the victim is called relational aggression. Girls will try to turn the group against a specific girl by either direct statements in front of her or by rumors spread behind her back. While there are no physical bruises or scrapes, the wounds of relational aggression can be just as damaging. Self-esteem takes a huge hit for victims of this type of aggression.

What about mom bullies? >>

How can you help?

What if your daughter is the mean girl?

  • Talk to your daughter about how damaging and hurtful her actions are to her peers — and that they are damaging her reputation and self-esteem as well.
  • Pay close attention to the behaviors you are modeling at home. Do you allow too much mean-spirited teasing between siblings? Do you tend to put each other down, or poke fun at physical attributes? Rethink the behaviors that seem harmless at home, but may be taken to a new level at school.

If you find that your daughter is involved in some mean girl drama, try not to overreact. Ask a few questions and listen very carefully to her answers so you can help determine her next steps. If you overreact, she may stop telling you about the abuse and continue to suffer in silence.

  • Make sure she knows it’s not her fault — and that being treated in an aggressive manner is wrong.
  • Ask if she thinks there are others who would stand up with her. There is safety in numbers — when more girls will stand firm and confident against the mean girl it’s more likely she will back down.
  • Help her brainstorm solutions without taking over. She needs to feel powerful enough to solve this problem on her own but she also needs your support.
  • Tell her to involve a trusted adult at school so that someone is aware of the problem. Often this type of bullying goes undetected by adults, because it is so difficult to trace.

Teach your daughter to be confident in her own strengths and abilities, and you give her the tools she needs to combat bullying and tame the mean girls.

More on teen friendships

Helping your teen make positive friendships
Don't sabotage your teen's social life
Boost your teen girl's self confidence