For parents, being rejected by your daughter is an excruciating experience.
But it can really make you mad and doubt your child’s sanity when you’re replaced by a group of girls with all the tact, sense of fairness, and social graces of a pack of hyenas. Most people believe a girl’s task is to get through it, grow up, and put those experiences behind her. But your daughter’s relationships with other girls have deep and far-reaching implications beyond her teen years.
Your daughter’s friendships with other girls are a double-edged sword.
First, let’s talk about the positives. These friendships can be the key to surviving adolescence. Many girls will make it through their teen years precisely because they have the support and care of a few good friends. These are the friendships in which a girl truly feels unconditionally accepted, understood, and sometimes even challenged when she’s doing something that’s not good for her—like dating a guy who doesn’t treat her with respect.
Girls’ friendships are often intense, confusing, frustrating, and humiliating; the joy and security of “best friendships” can be shattered by devastating breakups and betrayals. And beyond the pain in the moment, girls can develop patterns of behavior and expectations for future relationships that stop them from becoming competent, authentic people who are capable of having healthy relationships with others as adults.
But your daughter is too close to it all to realize the good and bad influence of her friends. She needs guidance from you despite the fact that she’s pulling away. In Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World, my job is to give you my best suggestions for what kind of guidance to give her and how that information should be presented so she listens and your relationship with her is strengthened through the process.
So let’s begin with girls’ top reasons for keeping you in the dark:
1. She believes that talking to you may make the situation worse.
2. She doesn’t want you to get angry with her or start lecturing her.
3. She doesn’t want you to get angry with the person she’s having a problem with because then you won’t let her hang out with that person anymore, or she’ll have to hide from you the fact that she is.
4. She doesn’t want you to think she has bad judgment.
5. She doesn’t want to hear the reasons you think she has bad judgment.
6. She doesn’t want you to worry.
7. She doesn’t want you to take over.
We have to convince girls that while we don’t need to know every detail of their personal lives, it’s not an entirely terrible idea to let us in once in a while. In fact, there’s a possibility that we can help. But here’s the problem: while it’s true that we want to emotionally connect with our children, we can sometimes get in our own way.
Our worry and concern can stop us from really seeing them or how they’re responding to our well-meaning efforts. Without meaning to, we force bonding moments, micromanage, judge, assume, lecture, or try to control. Ironically, as our girls push us away, what they want most is for us to recognize and acknowledge them.
So how can we reach out?
No matter what the situation, if there’s one thing all teens I work with agree on it’s this: When parents barrage their children with a torrent of questions at first sight, kids completely tune out and answer with the most uninformative responses they can think of in the hope that the adults will give up.
We love our daughters and want to know what’s going on in their lives. We also believe that knowing the details of their daily lives will strengthen our relationship. But here’s what the girls have explained to me: As soon as we see our daughters, we overwhelm them. Whether it’s when we pick them up from school or after practice or when we walk into the house from work, our questions feel like a physical assault.
Here’s how I want you to approach the challenge of finding out about your daughter’s day: Take a step back. When she’s at school, she’s part of a complicated social dynamic with many different kinds of people. Even on the best of days, dealing with all of this can be emotionally and physically exhausting. To get through it, your daughter develops her own personal brand of armor and wears it throughout the day.
None of this excuses bad behavior. She doesn’t get to be rude to you in response to your well- meaning inquiries. Nor does she get to text constantly all of her friends that she just left, or keep her earbuds or headphones in the whole time, either. But all that said, you can enjoy each other’s company and create an environment where pleasant, even meaningful, conversation is possible.
Rosalind Wiseman is a teacher, thought leader and bestselling author. As the co-founder of Cultures of Dignity, she works with educators, students, administrators, and parents around the world on the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people.
She wrote Queen Bees and Wannabes, 3rd Edition: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World, the book that inspired the hit movie and musical “Mean Girls,”Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World as well as Owning Up: Empowering Adolescents to Confront Social Cruelty, Bullying, and Injustice, a new curriculum for middle and high school students. Follow her on Twitter at @cultureodignity.