How do I help my teenage daughter deal with mean girls?

Q: When I hear about some of the things these girls are doing and saying to each other, my blood just boils! I know I can't call their mothers or confront them myself, but what am I supposed to do when my daughter comes home in tears day after day?

A: That movie Mean Girls did not come out of nowhere. It was actually based on a book called Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, which is a pretty good read, as I recall.

Here's the first and most helpful thing you can do:  Calm and soothe yourself, so you can attend to your daughter and her upset feelings without becoming fearful, angry, or feeling compelled to intervene on her behalf.

It goes without saying, of course, that if she's involved in a violent or abusive situation, she needs your help contacting the proper authorities.  But if you assess the situation as ugly and uncomfortable but not dangerous, then read on.

This is your daughter's journey, and she needs to get through it on her own two feet. She might tearfully ask you, "Why are they so mean?" One good answer is, "Sometimes when people are hurting inside they just can't stand feeling so bad, so they try to dump those bad feelings onto other people by being mean."

Your daughter doesn't actually need a lot of explanation or strategies, even if she asks for them. What she needs most from you is empathy -- neutral empathy, not outrage at the other girls, frustration, or sadness.

If you freak out when she tells you this stuff, she'll just stop telling you. So if you want to keep the lines of communication open, and be a safe place for her to vent her feelings of upset, you've gotta keep your cool.

She does not need constructive criticism about how she's been handling things, as helpful as you might think it could be. She needs you to LISTEN while she works things out herself. 

As you are listening, your daughter needs to feel your faith that she will figure this out. She needs to feel your confidence that she can get through tough times -- your trust that she's smart and empowered and will know what she needs to do when she needs to do it. She needs you not to be worried with or about her. She needs you to see her as capable, resourceful, and resilient.

She'll need you to comfort her when she tries things that don't work, and she needs you to allow her to struggle a little bit as she's finding her way.

And if you can't feel/do those things genuinely, then your work is to talk with your adult friends and vent your worries/anger/mama bear impulses, as well as any leftover feelings from social dramas during your own life, until your mind is clear again, and you can listen to her without becoming emotionally triggered yourself.

Here's some additional reading that may be helpful:
Here's a book from an author who is very practical and down-to-earth:

And this site is generally pretty accurate and accessible for teens who want to educate themselves on a variety of topics:

I hope this helps. And good for you for asking this kind of question.

For more information about Karen's parenting or interpersonal communication consultations by phone, visit

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