To put it simply, teen years sucked, for both me and my daughter. The dramas in her inner circle seemed to be non-stop, emotionally draining, and all too distracting.
When things got serious–that is, when one girl threatened to hit my daughter–I did what I’ve understood we’re supposed to do: I encouraged her to speak to her school counselor about it. I told her that schools take bullying very seriously.
When she did, I got a call from my sobbing daughter after school. The counselor’s solution was to segregate my daughter from everyone else; to give permission to make my daughter the odd girl out.
My daughter and I had recently attended a session with Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees (the inspiration behind the film Mean Girls). I fully expected the counselor to deal the “mean girls” in a way that would permanently solve the problem; I was not prepared for the idea that she might make the situation worse.
These girls were emotionally poking at my daughter; they knew how to make her cry and took full advantage. So when the counselor told the girls to stay away from my daughter, they were tacitly gave them permission to taunt her more, “Mrs. D said said you can’t sit next to us. Mrs. D said you can’t be near us.” I ended up apologizing to my daughter for encouraging her to go see the counselor.
Since they all went to the same after-school program, I sought help from the the staff there. The Director set up a session with our local family therapy agency for a few therapists to meet with all the middle school girls to discuss the topic. After the session, almost every single one of the girls in the group apologized to my daughter (which was eye-opening because we thought it was just a few, but it turns out most of them had made my daughter feel like the odd girl out at one time or another).
Unfortunately, the dramas continued, but that session had helped my daughter cope better. She would come to me after assorted incidents and we would talk our way through it. There were times I just let her cry. I would remind her that sometimes, she needs forgiveness, too–we all mess up at times.
I explained that it was up to her to decide what kind of relationship to pursue with each person on a case by case, person by person basis. With a couple of girls, I basically told her, “they’re just not that into you.” They were never going to be friends, but they still had to interact, so they should figure out how to be civil.
My daughter is in college now, and the friendship dramas have decreased substantially. I requested a new school counselor for her, who is more helpful than the last one. The new counselor gave her a book on feelings, and I noticed that my daughter carries it in her backpack. She also still has the support of the after-school program, so she is now surrounded wherever she goes with adults she trusts.
Next year, it will probably start all over again with my younger daughter. And I will not encourage a visit to the school counselor until I’m convinced that the counselor will make my daughter feel not only safe, but safeguards her from ostracism.