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.
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.