You’re excited your kids are getting older and more independent, but you often reflect back on the days when you weren’t constantly hearing about the “drama” going on in 8th grade. It’s difficult to know what to do when every other day your daughter seems to have a new best friend and there’s continuous talk of “The Mean Girl”. Add on top of that the technology that teens have to deal with, it’s hard to figure out how to best support your child and ensure that they are handling all this interpersonal conflict in a positive way. Here are a few ideas of how to handle The Mean Girl and support your teen so you both can (hopefully) avoid wanting to rip your hair out.
Often when we think of bullying it’s very blatant or aggressive actions such as hitting, name calling, or using social media to post negative things about others. However, during the teen years, bullying can often look like exclusion, requiring others to do certain things in order to “fit in”, and gossiping or spreading rumors. Talking with your teen at a young age about what these behaviors look like (and that these behaviors and actions are bullying) is a good way for them to be aware that these actions aren’t just a normal part of being an adolescent that they just need to deal with.
Difficulty and frustration in interpersonal relationships doesn’t just stop when we exit the teen years. As adults, we often feel frustrated with our friends, family, or spouse. It’s important to be mindful of the ways you act and engage in these relationships when your teen is watching. If you are often putting down or talking negatively about others, particularly other female friends, it is easy for it to become common place for your teen to do so as well. Being mindful of how you talk to and about others can be very helpful for your teen to know how know to talk about others. As much as they may not want to spend as much time with you during this stage of life, they are still watching you for how to act and what is appropriate in different situations.
By talking to your teen about bullying and modeling positive ways to deal with interpersonal conflict, you are showing your teen that you are a safe place if they need someone to talk to about bullying (or really anything!). Explain to your teen the difference between tattling or gossip and asking for help when they feel they are in danger or are being bullied. Express to your child that you are there to support them and help them stay safe.
These simple steps will allow your child to be aware of when they or others they interact with are being bullied, and allow them to be an advocate for themselves and others. You got this! This season won’t last forever!
Nicole Silcox is a licensed mental health therapist and has a particular passion for working with young adults dealing with transitioning and adjusting to new phases of life.