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Middle School: Stepping Out From the Shadow of a Mean Girl

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Middle School: Stepping Out From the Shadow of a Mean Girl

Middle school is tough. Ask just about anyone who has lived through the combat zone and they’ll tell you nearly everyone comes out with at least a few bumps and bruises.

I have a vivid memory of the day. I was sitting with my husband and my two other children in the auditorium of the elementary school waiting for my oldest daughter’s name to be called. It was her fifth-grade graduation. It was such an exciting time in her life. She was bidding farewell to the end of an era and was on the brink of an entirely new adventure – a new school, a ton of new kids, new teachers, new routine, new everything.

I recall going to the mall with her the weeks leading up to the first day of school. After all, she was growing up and heading into middle school. She needed a few new “cool” outfits and a new, more “trendy” hairstyle. We even picked out a new backpack and ditched her old patterned one – it was far too childish for middle school.

At first, everything went well. She was off to a great start making a few new friends, and even connected with some new kids at her lunch table. I was excited for her and proud that she was transitioning so well. I knew how nervous she was, but she didn’t show it. Little did we know at the time, but she had just entered the snake pit.

It only took a few months and slowly things began to shift. Day after day my daughter came home from school complaining to me about how mean and nasty some of the girls were. One day they were teasing her about her backpack that apparently wasn’t the “top” name brand, the next day they were gossiping behind her back about how bushy her eyebrows were and that she really needed to get them waxed. Everything from what she wore to her mannerisms was fair game to the mean girls.

I kept asking myself, Why? What is their motivation? Don’t these girls have a conscience? Will they ever stop?

Middle school is tough. Ask just about anyone who has lived through the combat zone and they’ll tell you nearly everyone comes out with at least a few bumps and bruises. Honestly, if I had a penny for every drama-ridden day my girls experienced in middle school I would be one heck of a wealthy woman.

Maybe middle school is meant to prepare our children for adulthood. Maybe it’s meant to teach them to face adversity, learn to stand on their own two feet, find their voice and muster up the courage to push back when someone pounces (verbally, that is).

For me, despite the lessons I knew my daughter was learning along the way, I found it exceptionally difficult to sit back and calmly listen to the stories my daughter was telling me and, frankly, I didn’t handle the malice my daughter was being subjected to very well. As much as I tried to dig down deep for patience, my inherent “mama bear” instincts were on the verge of unleashing on the next mean girl who crossed my daughter’s path.

Fast forward a few years and, thankfully, my girls survived middle school with all its heavy drama. Reflecting back on those tumultuous days I only wish I knew then what I know now. It would have made things so much easier. I could have been a better mother to my girls when they needed me. I certainly could have handled things a little differently. If only I knew…

If you’re the parent of a daughter who’s dealing with a mean girl in middle school, here are a few “lessons learned” and insight that might help you navigate your way through this turbulent time in your daughter’s life.

Understanding the Profile of a Mean Girl

If you read books about how to deal with mean girls you’ll find a common thread. Quite often, mean girls have an underlying need to belong stemming from a low self-esteem; they typically possess a very unhealthy attitude toward competition and have a high level of mistrust for others. They’ll often go to great lengths to put others down just to make themselves feel better – particularly those who they feel could be direct competition to them. In essence, it’s nothing more than a façade. Frankly, it’s quite sad that they feel the need to lash out the way that they do. Little do they know that most kids really don’t want to be around them, but only do so to avoid becoming the next target of their spite.

Mean Girls Use Relationships as Weapons

When a mean girl strikes she uses relationships as a weapon to gain power, influence and hierarchy status. She’ll inflict emotional pain through social alienation, ostracizing, rumors to taint someone’s reputation, gossip and calculated nasty remarks to keep others off-balance. With social media serving as nothing more than a playground for mean girls, it makes it even easier for them to strike on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter leaving a lasting and painful mark on unsuspecting victims.

Why Mean Girl Attacks Spike in Middle School

In elementary school, everyone seems to get along. Life is just simpler. By the time middle school rolls around, however, it’s all about vying for position in the hierarchy of popularity. No one wants to be down at the bottom of the hierarchy, everyone “wishes” they could be at the top, and most kids end up somewhere in the middle. And, everyone, no matter where they fall in the hierarchy, has a burning desire to “fit in.” Middle school is the only time in your child’s life when they’ll fight to become independent while striving to look like, and even perhaps act like, everyone else. Mean girls, particularly, will do anything and everything they have to – from lying, gossiping, teasing and starting rumors – to position themselves at the top of the hierarchy. And, because teen self-esteem at this age is typically fragile it makes it fairly easy for mean girls to rattle unsuspecting girls.

What You Can Do To Help Your Daughter

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Listen, Validate and Don’t OverreactUnless Necessary

When your daughter walks in the door after school with an unsettling mean girl story, the most important thing you can do to help is to validate her feelings and listen far more than you talk. Whatever you do, try not to overreact. Your daughter is upset enough. The last thing she needs is to have you ranting about how you’re going to call the mother and give her a piece of your mind, which, by the way, is your daughter’s absolute worst fear. She needs you to remain calm and listen. She needs your validation, support, and guidance. Of course, if the situation becomes escalated, it’s always important to notify the school administration. There’s a fine line between a few nasty, “mean girl” remarks and full-blown bullying, which should never be tolerated.

Encourage Your Daughter to Stay Strong

Even occasional slams from a mean girl can really shake the confidence and self-esteem of a young girl. Remind your daughter that this is a totally crummy stage of her life that will eventually pass and, despite what she may realize, these experiences can and will make her stronger, more resilient and help prepare her for the harshness of the real world. Teach her to stand strong, remain true to herself and not to compete with anyone but herself. Remind her that her confidence is her absolute strongest asset and tell her, (something my mother always told me), if you relinquish control to a mean girl whose desire is to control you, the mean girl will always jump at the chance. The bottom line is, don’t relinquish control.

Reinforce the Idea that Retaliation is Not an Option

Wouldn’t it be nice to retaliate in some way? While deep down inside this might be something your daughter would like to do, retaliation should never be an option. Your daughter’s reputation is all she has and it can, and will, follow her throughout the next several years of her life. Advise her to steer clear of any form of retaliation either blatant or behind the scenes. Plus, remind her that others are watching. Your daughter holds the power to influence behavior. By taking the high road she’s setting an example for others to follow.

Find Outlets to Build Confidence

Middle school, in general, can be a confidence crusher. Pile on the fact that your daughter may be the target of a mean girl – either face-to-face or via social media – and you may find your daughter’s confidence plummeting to an all-time low. Plan ahead, if possible, and seek out an activity that your daughter enjoys – something that she’s not only good at but also where she can meet other girls who may not be quite so focused on putting others down. Dealing with the troubles associated with middle school and mean girls is difficult, but by having your daughter surround herself with a lot of different girls – either in clubs or sports, for instance when she is attacked, she’ll be far better equipped to stand strong, brush it off and keep it in perspective.

Strategize Tactical Maneuvers

There may be times, no matter how hard your daughter tries to brush off a mean girl strike, that she needs to stand up for herself verbally. To help her find her voice and build confidence consider role-playing. By practicing and “hearing” the words and the tone of her voice your daughter will begin to empower herself and be better prepared when a mean girl moves in with a nasty remark. Ideally, you want to establish a solid plan so that your daughter isn’t caught off guard and stands ready with a few comebacks in her back pocket should she need to use them. Additionally, remind your daughter that mean girls feed off of other’s reactions and they’re often looking for an easy target. Have your daughter practice maintaining her composure. The less emotion your daughter shows when a mean girl lashes out, the better.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

One of the most important things you need to strive for is to keep the lines of communication open with your daughter. While you don’t want to pound her with questions the second she walks in the door after school, you should gently ask a few questions to encourage her to talk about her day. Connect with your daughter by sharing stories about when you were in middle school. Remember, teens have a way of keeping a lot to themselves, especially when things aren’t going well, so you need to stay close to your daughter to help her work through this struggle. Above all, stay tuned into your daughter’s emotions and stand ready to step in if you find the occasional mean girl episode has turned into a case of relentless bullying.

Hang Tight – There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel

Thankfully, just like everything else in life, things change. By the time high school rolls around, the hierarchy oftentimes shifts. The means girls may or may not still be mean but, because there’s typically far more kids in the school and classes shift throughout the day a mean girl simply doesn’t have the opportunity to target any one girl to any great degree. Plus, in high school there’s greater diversity and opportunities that will allow your daughter to find her niche which will give her the freedom to find out who she is and flourish.

Words of Wisdom:

Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.

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