"To help your daughter develop both self-reflection and empathy, you might say, 'Did the other girls like that? How do you think they might be feeling?' Validate her feelings while still expressing your opinion, by saying things like, 'I know how well-liked you are, and I'm glad for you, but I don't think you are being a good leader when you do things like this or say things like this.' Use the power of suggestion with statements like, 'I know you want to fit in but I also look forward to the time when you won't have to act like your friends and can do things in your own unique ways.'"
Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D.
Lisa Sjostrom, Ed.M.
Co-authors, Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health and Leadership
While middle school may be a time when some girls turn to their parents less and less for emotional support, they still want it and still need to know you care. Here are some ways to help them figure out their social lives.
Validate your daughter's feelings.
"Find times to be available for her to talk about what's going on — even if she acts like she doesn't want to," says Catherine Steiner-Adair. "Take weekly drives to the store or have a weekend lunch. Do the dishes together. When she does talk, start by listening and acknowledging what's going on, rather than criticizing her or her friends. You might say, 'I know it's hard now, but it won't always be this way.' "
Help her find a group of friends outside of school.
"Support her outside interests -- whether drama, music or a sport — and encourage her to get to know kids outside of school," recommends Michael Thompson. In this way, her circle widens, and she's functioning independently from the cliques. This is especially helpful for girls who feel shy or who don't fit in at school.
Help her say "no."
Your daughter may have a great group of friends, but there may be times when she needs to say "no" — no to a party, no to drugs, and even no to sex. "She needs you to model how to do this by giving her opportunities, from the time she is young, to take a stand and be heard by you. So acknowledge her no's to you, even if you don't agree with them," recommends Steiner-Adair.
Respect her decisions.
"If your daughter faces a difficult social situation, start by simply empathizing, then ask your daughter what she wants to do about it," recommends Lawrence Cohen. It's OK to say, "Do you really think that's a good idea?" or "I don't know if I agree with that, but I'll respect what you decide to do." Unless your girl is going to do something unsafe, let her work it out on her own terms, and step in to help only if she needs you to, not because you want to.
Help her deal with gossip and rumors — without spreading rumors yourself.
"Rumors, bullying and teasing are all too common but still very painful if it happens to your daughter," adds Cohen. Don't jump in with both guns blaring and take over, call the other parent (unless you decide together to do that) or tell her what to do. "Keep in mind that part of this isn't about gossip — it's about transitions and the impact on friendships. So find out what your daughter wants to do and help her sort it out, before taking action on your own. One idea I often suggest to parents is that they make a pact with their daughter's friends' parents — to keep talking and not join in battles when our daughters (inevitably) end up in conflicts with each other."
Help her stand up to cyber-bullying.
Spreading rumors on the Internet has become a new pastime for many girls. A recent Pew Internet Study reports that one-third of girls aged 12 to 14 have experienced online harassment, or "cyber-bullying" with e-mails and IMs passed between groups of girls. Rachel Simmons suggests that parents teach their daughters not to use the Internet to hash out personal conflicts. She recommends parents guide their girls to sign off with a message like "gotta go" if they find themselves caught in the middle of nasty online emails or IM exchanges, and help girls understand why it's important not to forward online gossip. For more information on cyber-bullying, read The Girl Net.
Assume the best of your daughter.
The best thing we as parents can do is assume our daughters won't be drama queens, consumed by mean behavior or obsessed with popularity. Expectations matter — so believe the best of your daughter so she can live up to it.