Oh Boy

What Am I Supposed To Tell My Kid About Mean Girls?

I want to teach my kid to give people some grace.

What am I supposed to tell my kid about mean girls?
Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

My daughter got a job this spring and made friends there quickly. But then things took a turn, when one of them started being mean to the other girls and wanted my daughter to join in. That upset her and made her uncomfortable, but she wasn’t sure how to stand her ground. She came to me with the problem and said she wasn’t sure what she should do. And honestly, I didn’t know what to do, either.

My daughter thought maybe she’d just ignore the girl. Now, there was a huge part of me that wanted to say that sounded like a great idea — let that girl get exactly what she deserved. But I also want to teach my kid to have compassion without being treated like a doormat. We have no idea why this girl is acting this way. While I’m not excusing the behavior, I do want my daughter to understand sometimes when others are mean, it’s because of their own insecurities. Maybe this girl is deeply sad about something. But it was clear my daughter was done with the friendship, and I understood that, too.

So I just laid it all out for my daughter: “If you start ignoring her, you’re treating her the exact same way she wants you to treat the other girls. And you said that’s making you feel really bad.” She agreed, but she didn’t know another way to deal with it. I asked her if she could still be polite — say “hello” and smile — while keeping her distance. She responded, “What if she asks me to hang out?”

It’s more than okay to tell someone you don’t want to hang out with them because of their behavior, I told her. If she decided she could say this (I know it’s easier said than done), it should be done in private. Be clear and say what she has done and how that bothered you. It might lead to a productive conversation, and it might not. But at least it would cut the tension and she’d know why the friendship wasn’t the same without having to guess.

It’s such an uncomfortable conversation to have. And as a teenager, I wasn’t great at it. In fact, shutting down and ignoring people when they upset me was my method of choice. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized having an honest conversation was uncomfortable for a few minutes, but it’s so much better to try to resolve rather than letting the tension fester every time you have to see them. Talking it out clears the air and you can go on to have a better relationship. We’re all guilty of having our feelings come out sideways and I want to teach my kid to give people some grace.

I really want my daughter to realize if she starts having these hard talks now, they will get easier. She’ll feel more confident to speak up about something she believes in and will have less resentment because she won’t stay in relationships that aren’t serving her.

You can end a friendship, or any kind of relationship for that matter, without being mean. I know from experience it never makes you feel good to treat someone in a way you don’t like to be treated, and I want my daughter to learn this life lesson a lot sooner than I did.

She ended up telling the girl how she didn’t agree with her behavior and thought she was being mean over text. They didn’t make up and are no longer friends. It was hard for my daughter to confront her but she’s happy with the outcome. She feels happier hanging out with other, more positive friends.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.