How parents and teens can communicate without strife

Nov 12, 2010

Rosalind Wiseman, author of "Queen Bees & Wannabes," the bestseller that was the basis for the film "Mean Girls," discussed how to set boundaries for teens while helping them transition to adulthood.

My daughter is 8, and I am already seeing the bullying. How should I advise my daughter to handle her very bossy "friend" who is constantly telling her what to do and making snide comments like "you look nerdy with braces?"

Good morning, everyone! With a bossy friend I would suggest your daughter sit down with you and have her analyze where the bossiness and mean comments usually occurs -- because there is often a pattern ie. in front of other people. But whatever it is have her basically dissect the conflict, and then tell you specifically what the girl does that she wants stopped and what she wants instead. This is part of the SEAL process I write about in "Queen Bees." S is stop and think where and when should I confront this person. E is explain exactly what you want to stop and what you want to happen instead. A is affirm your daughter's right to be in a friendship that treats her with dignity, and L is lock in, lock out or take a vacation. Meaning she has to decide if she wants to stay friends with this girl. And she doesn't have to be.

Hi. One thing that I've noticed in the workplace are that the queen bees move up the food chain to power positions (pick any industry) and still act like queen bees. I'm not trying to generalize, but part of why I dislike working for women (and I'm a woman) are that working for queen bees can be exhausting, annoying and sometimes frightening if they "decide" that they don't like you. Thanks.

I agree. Some of these patterns come with us as adults. But I think as women we have to really look hard at our own behavior, specifically how we handle our anger or frustration. So many women keep their anger inside and let it build until they explode and then people blow them off again.

Are you familiar with the age-old premise of "obligation, responsibility and consequences" and good manners and common courtesies? If each member of the family recognizes their obligations, understands the responsibility of meeting the obligation and knows the consequences, haven't they communicated and reduced the possibility of strife? If family members treat and use good manners and common courtesies, haven't they communicated and reduced the possibility of strife?

I agree, but I think the challenge is in the concrete application of these values. Sometimes I think parents say the concepts but then don't make the link in the everday in a manner that is relavant to kids. For example, tying mobile phones to good manners.

My daughter is a freshman in high school; she is bright, reserved and quiet. Her middle school fed into three high schools, so very few of her friends are at this high school with her. She is doing the best she can to make new friends but it doesn't come easily to her. She joined the after school art club, which I think is a great idea, but she still feels very lonely. She dreads lunch in the cafeteria where she knows so few people and has no regular friends to sit with. Do you have any suggestions on how I can support her through this tough transition?

First of all I think it is important to recognize that she is doing a lot of things right. She has found a group she likes to hang with where she shares a common passion or interest. Second, she is telling you how she feels. Both critical. My first question is: Where do the art people sit or does she share a lunch period with them? Second think to emphasize with her is that it is way more important to have one good friend than a ton where you have no idea if they will really support you (i.e. not talk behind your back, dump you if a better offer comes along, etc.). And in my experience the kids who feel the same as your daughter at lunch are hanging in a classroom eating with each other or have joined some kind of club where they can eat at the same time.

My daughter is a ninth grader who is being "pursued" (I'm not sure how else to describe it) by another girl who is somewhat socially awkward. I thinks she wants my daughter for her best friend, although that's not my daughter's style. (She has lots of friends in lots of different groups, and from different schools, public and private). My daughter is trying to be nice to this girl, but she feels bad about repeatedly declining invitations. I've told her she has to be nice and respectful, but that she doesn't have to be friends with everyone and doesn't have to accept invitations from everyone. Any advice?

This is such a good example of how hard these situations can be and why I think my work is more about social competency than anything else. For the other parents reading this I also want to point out how common this situation is and how often the girl who is being pursued sometimes gets to the point where she feels that she is being forced to be rude or mean to get the other person to back off. But that can look like bullying from the other side. So girls in your daughter's situation don't have to be friends with this girl, but they can't be mean.  What that looks like is if the girl tries to eat with them, they can't roll their eyes and make inside jokes, or just get up and leave. Treating the girl with respect means including her in the conversation. But that doesn't mean your daughter has to accept the girl's invitations. It's a fine line but an important one.

How do I get my 10-year-old daughter to open up and talk about her concerns and emotions when I typically get, "You just wouldn't understand."

I get that too as a parent! Here's what I say: "Maybe I won't, but I really want to and the only way I will is if you give me the chance. So how about you try for two minutes and I promise not to ask any questions. I'll just listen." Then after the two minutes, if I have any questions I'll only ask one or two (because you don't want to come across as an interagator). If your daughter still won't budge, tell her, "Okay. I know I can't force you and I don't want to, but please know that if you ever want to talk to me, I'll be here." You can also see if she'll talk to an aunt, grandparent -- any adult you think has the values you share. What is most important is that she knows she can talk to an adult when and if she needs to.

How many teens did you raise to adulthood?

In my own family, my mother had my sister when I was 15 and for various reasons, I was extremely involved in raising her. For the last 17 years, beyond my teaching, I worked closely with teens, sometimes in long-term capacities -- especially teens who have been bullied, molested or otherwise abused.

My 11-year-old daughter started middle school this fall, and the social grouping patterns have her somewhat stressed out. She has a group of friends but it feels claustrophobic, and she feels like she can't make new friends because "everyone is already in their own group." Also, she feels like her current friends (good kids, just insecure like everyone else this age) feel betrayed if she tries to, say, eat lunch at a different table. She's worried that taking risks to extend herself to new people will fail, and her old friends will shut her out, leaving her with no friends. When I encourage her to take a risk -- saying things like "everyone else probably feels the same way and would like a new friend" -- she looks at me like I'm insane. Any advice?

This is one of those times when it's good to have an open-ended conversation with her. Ask her to sit down at the kitchen table and give her a cup of hot chocolate or tea with lots of honey (both essential in my mind for thinking and writing), and ask to write down on a paper what are the positives of only sitting at her current table every day. On the back of the paper, have her list the negatives. When she is done ask her what she is getting from the positives (i.e. her friends' loyalty, not rocking the boat) then ask her what is she sacrificing by staying and not making new friends. Last question to ask her:  Does she think it's worth it? Now she doesnt have to answer that right away or she can change her mind later. Just tell her to think about it, and you'll talk about it later when she has an answer.

Great advice, thanks. I will talk to her about what goes on in school. It's a good point you make. Sometimes kids like my daughter (lots of friends, but pretty easy- going and accommodating) can feel "stifled" by someone trying to monopolize a relationship. I also think it's good practice for romantic relationships to let our kids know that it's not a good idea to pursue someone in such a lopsided manner!

Exactly! Making the connection between friends now and people you date later is CRITICAL!

I don't consider myself a conservative or a prude on these issues, but I am very dismayed by the constant deluge of images promoting sex (oral or otherwise) without intimacy. From references on screen in PG 13 movies (the recent oral sex-implied scene in the bathroom in "Social Network"), to "grinding" at school dances. I want my girls to understand that sex without intimacy, commitment and yes, love, is not ideal. When I try to talk about it, though, my daughters (ninth grade twins) recoil with a groan: "Mom, stop!" How to combat these images?

I know exactly what you mean. This is a huge issue. Not only the subject, but moreover how you "market" your ideas to your daughters. In the new revised "Queen Bees" I wrote a new chapter on techonology and the media for just that reason. So I am now reading my book and going to give some highlights:

1. Don't assume artists are all good or all bad. Eminem, for example, is someone parents like you usually -- and for very understandable reasons -- hate. But he also is a lot more complicated. I just wrote a blog about him and Rihanna on my Web site that you should read, but here's what I'd say to your daughters: " I know I tell you about music or movies I dont like but I've decided that  I really need to learn more about it and why you like it. After that, I'd like to talk about it. Just like you have media coming at you all day, so do I, and I want us both to be more aware of what messages are coming at us. I want all of us to be informed. So I'd like you to show me what you like and why. Then I want to talk about it."

 

Now when you do this you can't get all "lecturee" about how bad the messages are. Focus on asking things like: "What is that image trying to get you to think? Believe? What is it trying to tell you?"

 

And this works with video games as well!

I heard you speak to a school group about seven years ago. Now that my daughter is in eigth grade, I think of you and thank you often. You have helped get though many smaller bully bumps to avoid major trauma. While the toughest years may be ahead, I like that my daughter and I -- as a team -- identify mean girl behaviors. I ask her if this is how she wants to be treated or why would someone say these things to you. We often just say, "Who needs this crap?" and move on.

Thanks! But I think your comment speaks to starting the conversation early in a girl's life and keeping those conversations coming. So by the time she is in eighth grade the dynamic is already set that she can come to you, and that you will not only provide comfort but a way to think through the problems and then let it go (i.e. who needs this crap).

You must get this question a lot. It is, of course, about my middle school-aged daughter. We're blessed with a girl who has her head on straight. This year, her former BFF publically shunned her. It came out of nowhere, truly.  Truly. Our daughter has taken the high road and sought out other friends, etc. How can we support her to handle the negative text bullying that's going on about her by this other girl? Of course, my mama bear instincts are up, and I'm ready to call the other girl's parents. But I realize that could make things worse. Basically, we're sitting back and not engaging/stooping to this other girl's level. But it just doesn't feel right either.

It depends who is doing the negative texting. If its other girls I would have her SEAL it (look at an earlier answer for what that is) and say she while she can't control what the girls text, she is asking that it stop. She can also say, "Yes it's true that we aren't friends like we used to be, but the texts you are sending are making me feel worse. Not sure if that's your point, but I want you to be clear that it hurts. But I am still strong enough to tell you directly instead of talking behind your back." Now obviously it's impossible to do this perfectly, but any part of this she does is a success and more than taking the high road it allows her to express her feelings and take some measure of control in a situation where she probably doesn't feel she has any.

Here's an age old question that I was discussing with my teens this week: How to politely decline a request for a date? Don't want to be mean, and don't want to '"lead 'em on" as they say.

This is very important question because sometime people are so unclear that they miscommunicate. So when a girl says, "I can't. I am going away this weekend" or "My parents won't let me" that doesn't come across as not wanting to date. That comes across as I do want to hang out, but I can't. So you say it directly by e-mail or face to face and you say, "Thanks but I'm not interested." But here's the very important part. The girl isn't allowed to forward any e-mails from the person, isn't allowed to roll her eyes when the person walks by. Isn't allowed to make jokes about it. Tell all her friends about it so they in turn can tease. She has to treat the person with dignity.

Reading about the problems of schools makes me wonder if children would benefit from being home schooled, since they won't have to deal with the lunchroom and social cliques. Do you know whether home schooling helps them navigate some social problems? Thank you.

It depends. Good home-school educational plans have the kids in groups with other children often and consistently. Because common sense dictates that isolating people is never good and home-schooled children really benifit from being in those type of programs. So for some kids it's a great choice -- especially if the only alternative is a unsafe school.

I fully expect that the girl doing the shunning/texting is flat-out denying it. It's why my daughter hasn't brought it up via the channels available through her school. She's also fearful that by raising the issue, she'll exacerbate the situation. I get that SEAL helps her to take some control back, but if the interaction is flat out denied, is it really that productive when it could prod the "confronted" girl to further meanness?

If it's the former BFF who is doing it then you need to know how your daughter knows about it. Has someone showed it to her? What was their motivation for doing so? They could be doing it because they feel bad but they also could be doing it to stir the pot. Be very careful here because it feels to me like your daughter is getting manipulated by other girls. As a parent it is critical to be as sure as you can be about the facts before you act.

 

So if its another girl showing it your daughter than your daughter needs to tell her to stop showing her the texts.

 

And if you want, I do think sometimes talking to the other parents isn't a terrible idea. Consider calling them and saying something like, "Hey Tom, I know the girls aren't as close as they used to be but I think there may be a problem that I need your help with. My daughter believes that your daughter is sending negative texts about her. I haven't seen the texts myself but on the chance there is some accuracy about this, could you talk to her daughter because my daughter is feeling pretty hurt. She understands that they aren't friends anymore but she does want the texting to stop.

 

 

Thanks everyone for your questions and comments! All best,

 

Rosalind

In This Chat
Rosalind Wiseman
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of "Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials," "Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads" and "Queen Bees & Wannabes." She also writes a monthly advice column for Family Circle.

To find out about her next move in Hollywood, Girl World tour and upcoming projects, read this Q&A.
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