Helping Your Daughter Deal with Mean Girls

To say I wasn’t too popular in middle or most of high school would probably be an understatement. I was one of those late-blooming, nose-in-a-book, still doll-playing-at-fourteen kind of girls. At age twelve, I excitedly took my illustrated children’s Bible and headed off to church youth group. Unfortunately, a place where love and acceptance should abound was instead a place full of cliques and cattiness. Despite my (admittedly awkward) efforts to be friendly, I don’t remember many girls reaching out or even saying “hi”.

Week after week, I came home and cried. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I fit in? Why wouldn’t the other girls talk to me?

Eventually, by God’s grace, two things happened: I matured and my family moved. In the new town, people were welcoming and friendly. I belonged, finally. When I went off to college, I had no difficulty socially, and am blessed now with many lovely women who I consider dear friends. But those middle and early high school years were very difficult.

I thought I was alone in this, until I started talking to other women about their experiences. I discovered that far from being unusual, this kind of behavior among teenage girls is almost the norm. Most women I’ve talked to either experienced this kind of treatment or were the perpetrators of it themselves.

mean girls

I have a daughter now, and one of my greatest fears is getting her through those tumultuous, insecure, awkward middle and high school years with her sense of confidence intact. I would love to protect her from every mean girl, every unkind word, and every sting of rejection possible. However, I recognize not only the impossibility of that, but also the lack of wisdom in doing so.

My parents didn’t protect me from the mean girls, but they did equip me to deal with them in ways that allowed me to come through the experience more confident and compassionate than when I began. There were a few things that they did which I plan to do with my own daughter:

1. They lavished me with affection and acceptance at home. I knew that no matter how rough the world was out there, at home I would be treated with love. I know this is a blog for moms, but I believe my dad’s affirmation and affection were especially vital in helping me remain confident.

2. They didn’t offer superficial advice to help me fit in better. My mom didn’t take me on a shopping spree for more fashionable clothes, try to help me develop more trendy interests, or do anything else to make me more like the popular girls. Instead, she and my dad encouraged me to be myself and seek friends who would love me as I was. This was vital in preserving my self-worth as a unique child of God rather than someone who needed to change to be more likable.

3. They didn’t let me see myself as a victim. Although it was easy to feel sorry for myself, my parents frequently reminded me that I could use these difficult experiences to develop my character and become more compassionate towards others who might also be lonely or rejected. They encouraged me with stories of great heroes of the faith who were able to accomplish much by not following the crowd and reminded me that even Christ Himself suffered rejection.

While I would never want to go back to that period of my life, I also wouldn’t change the experience for anything. God used it to help me become confident in the woman He designed me to be and to grow in compassion for those who are rejected. If your daughter is dealing with mean girls, there is hope. This too shall pass, and you can help her grow in grace through it.



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  1. CarolAnnie44 says

    I went through all of this, and as a mom now, I see my girls experience it as well. I always point out to them that it’s a whole lot better to be on the receiving end than the other way around. Kids who go through this kind of treatment can get through it, and be better for it, but those who are the perpetrators very often grow up to have shallow lives and shallow friendships, since that is what they have cultivated their whole lives. They also don’t have anyone to “help them through” the situation, since in their minds, they are doing great! In the fake world of high school, popularity is the “be all and end all” and if you achieve that, you’re a “success”. Such a sad, low bar to set for themselves so early in life. Thanks for the insights into this far too common problem…

    • Camie says

      I agree wholeheartedly with, “it’s a whole lot better to be on the receving end than the other way around”. Like almost every girl I’ve known (even the mean ones), I have unpleasant memories also. As I watch my children experience heartache, I first make sure they know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them and then point out how they should always stay aware of how the experience made them feel and to never be the person who could create those feelings in someone else.

  2. Heidi says

    Thanks for this message. I too had a hard time in middle school and some of high school. This year I sent my oldest to public school for the first time. She is is 6th grade and has been home schooled. I did all the stuff you said, except the clothing thing. I think that is ok to get your daughter trendy clothes. We got all of them second hand and did not spend a ton. As adults we understand that we dress different ways for different things. I dress differently to work in the garden, then I do to go to church or go camping or go to a job interview. When a missionary goes to a different country they often adopt the dress of that country. I think teaching kids that different activities and places mean different outfit and styles is okay. I was not taught this. I was taught to dress how I want too. I was embarrassed as an adult many times by showing up to a wedding dresses in jeans or showing up to a bridal shower – the only one dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. All the other girls wore nice dresses and I looked dumb. teaching girls to dress appropriately (yet modestly) is a life skill. Why make a kid suffer because you won’t train them?

    • A says

      The best thing you can do for her is reaffirm that she is fantastic and encourage her to show confidence and not be afraid to stand up for herself. Sadly, when mean people see weakness they persist. Encourage activities that build confidence and teach her to be strong.

  3. Raeleen Sewell says

    Unfortunately, this starts much younger than middle school. I have a10 year old daughter, and looking back, i would say that i saw this starting as early as 2nd grade, growing a bit more every year. She is at a small Christian school and, where she has amazing friendships, there is a competitiveness for attention breaks my heart and needs to be dispelled. As mothers (within this group), we are fairly good at recognizing what’s going on and addressing it, taking the time to also pray for each of them.

  4. says

    This came at the perfect time. My daughter just started first grade a couple weeks ago and 2 days ago had an experience with a bratty girl saying some very unkind things to her. I didn’t know first graders knew how to be so mean! These are very good things to remember. It just shows how important our influence as mothers in the home is on our children. They may leave us for hours a day but we still can teach them so much. This is just one of the many reasons why I would consider homeschooling. Thank you so much.

  5. Michele Knear says

    Perfect timing. We homeschool, but my almost 10-year-old daughter is running into the 8,9,10 year old drama of the other neighborhood girls.

  6. Lindsey Hayes says

    Looking back on those very difficult times of my life I wish for two things, a strong female and Christian mentor (one who wasn’t my parent and had maybe just moved out of the stage I was going through) and the understanding that the mean girls whether they knew it consciously or not were desperately in need of the same thing. There is a lot to deal with in that time of life and i really wish that had the eyes of Jesus to see the pain masked behind the mean and hostile behavior. I urge those of you who are capable to take in some of these girls and disciple them. They are so in need of it!

  7. Lisa says

    I can’t tell you how timely this is! Although this is directed towards girls, my son has experienced this at a christian school since 2nd grade, he is now in 8th grade. I have agonized over this issue many times, and often have felt at a loss as to how to best help him through these difficult days/years. I continue to pray that his character will become strong and he will develop a compassionate heart! It is so heartbreaking to pick him up from school only to have him tell me, through tears, about the ill treatment he has received during the day. This post gives me hope. I plan to refer to it often!! Thank you.

  8. Happysuz says

    This is already happening in 1st grade for my daughter. It amazes me how manipulative, mean and selfish girls can be at this age. I don’t remember this kind of behavior until about 5th or 6th grade. It is so hard to teach her to stand up for herself yet still be kind and compassionate at this young age. Thanks for the ideas here!

  9. Gronchy says

    Going through Young Women’s I was in a small ward that, by the luck of the draw, it seemed all of the other young women were part of the cool kids at school. I wasn’t. They were all very good friends but I wasn’t included. It hurt. But I made the decision not to be bothered by it. What did bother me was that it bothered my mom. She had me talk to the Bishop about it and she and my dad did too. Point being, those girls could be mean and catty til kingdom come, but truth be told, I didn’t like them enough to care. The message that I got from my mother at that time was that I was lacking something if I didn’t have the approval of those girls. I know that’s not what she meant at all, but

    please HAVE FAITH IN YOUR DAUGHTER. Even if she is not liked by her peers it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. In fact, in today’s world a lot of times it means she’s doing something right.

    • denaejo says

      I’m afraid I have done exactly opposite what you suggest. I have tried to make suggestions on how to make friends. But I think I have made it worse for my daughter rather than helping. Any suggestions how to make iher feel better now? I feel like the bully now. :-(

      • Gronchy says

        Just so you know, I don’t hold anything against my mom. Now or ever. I can tell you’re a loving mother and that’s the single most important thing for her to know. I can’t put it in better words than Stephen Covey does in the first part of his book 7 Habits. I recommend. (:

        Acceptance is one word I can sum up all of this in. Accept whatever and whoever she as the best thing in the entire universe. “I always wanted a daughter just like you (whatever you are)” is an attitude I hope to have as a parent.

        Something that my parents did that helped me when I was having trouble with a group of girls whose opinions I DID care about was say, “Who cares? Those girls are stupid. Most people are not as giving as you are.” They had always loved my friends, but as soon as they turned out to be fair weather friends they didn’t care for them.

  10. Claire says

    Growing up, I experienced both bullying and being bullied in this way. I think it happens at an age when we are learning to be empathetic, but haven’t quite figured out how our talk and actions hurt others. What helped me more than anything was the realization that there were some people who were popular because they were more stylish than the rest of us, and some people who were popular because they were kinder than the rest of us. Those who made friends with everyone had more friends. It was just simple math! So I started following that example and striving to be one of those kids who had friends because I included others. It’s amazing how soon I started to feel included once I took the necessary step to include others.

  11. Chelstr says

    Great post! I wish you had been my mother growing up! It’s so important to be there for your kids during those horrible middle/high school years. Especially when you see those reports of kids committing suicide because of the bullying. When I was in middle school my best friend since age 5 didn’t want to be my friend anymore, I was crushed! I went home bawling and my mom sat there across the room with her arms folded asking what I did to make her not want to be my friend anymore. She would also mock me for having no friends and said it was my own fault. I refuse to do that to my kids. Fortunately you and I are on the same page and what you posted is pretty much how I deal with it with them. I also teach them to be empathetic to the bully (to an extent), “don’t you think it’s kind of sad that the only way she/he can be happy is by being mean to people…”.
    Now all we need to do is worry about peer pressures, which IMO are a thousand times worse than when we were kids!

  12. erin says

    I grew up in daycares from the time I was 3. I witnessed, even at such a young age, how cruel and manipulative girls (and guys!) can be. It’s not innate, it’s learned. It’s also formed in children who do not learn how to properly and kindly communicate with others. As parents, you have to watch what you say and how you react- kids will even pick up on your fake smiles and how you interact with certain people.
    The few girls I didn’t get along with- I noticed that there was judgement coming from their parents (that person isn’t religious enough, white trash talk, calling people fat and acting disgusted by it, frowns & glares at certain people for their actions/looks, etc) which they were learning and adding to those judgements. Television, magazines, and certain books didn’t help, either. Teachers also contributed even when they were supposed to remain neutral and not bully the kids who weren’t quite up to their expectations or just wanted extra attention.

    Teaching children to share, laugh, and love are vital. I worry so much when I see parent’s post on FB about how their kids got in trouble in preschool for shoving this or that kid and laughing it off as “kids will be kids”.
    Use the teachings in the gospel and watch your kids- instruct them that the best way to face others who are demeaning and unkind is to reach out with kindness.

  13. Hearher says

    Love this! As my daughter is growing it’s good to have wisdom for the tough times we may face in the future. Thank you for the encouragement and simple steps.

  14. Janice says

    I told my daughter from day one that people like what they like and just because they like something different that does not mean they are wrong. God made us all unique. She is in 8th grade and is definitely unique. She loves comic books, video games and punk music and wears very unique clothes compared to the other girls (band/video game tshirts and 2 different color converse) She also is in AP classes and gets all A’s. She has been bullied by girls for years but she just tells them that she likes what she likes. She was called a nerd for having all A’s, she replied that she wants to get into a good college and have a great career.

    She has a few very close girlfriends who have similar tastes and she is friends with many boys since she accepts them for who they are and they do the same. I just wonder why so many girls feel the need to belittle others for being different but boys don’t.

    • Karen says

      Actually boys can be just as cruel. I was made fun of by lots of boys during those rough years, starting about the 4th grade through high school. In later years, the boys stopped making fun but they sure didn’t ask me to dance during church dances. That hurts too.

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