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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 11-year-old daughter, “Carol,” is part of a friend group with three other girls: “Marcia,” “Jan,” and “Cindy.” Carol spends the vast majority of her time talking to and hanging out with Marcia, badmouthing and lightly pranking the other two members of the group in person and online. We monitor her online activity, so I know a lot more of what goes on via messages, etc. than I have full context for. Carol and Marcia seem to have some petty grievances against Jan and Cindy that they can’t let go of. Carol is being a terrible friend to Jan and Cindy, and a part of me wants to sit her down and tell her how hurtful her actions are and encourage her to end these friendships instead of stringing these girls along for her enjoyment. But Carol is very private and does not typically talk to us about any of this, and getting her to open up is very difficult. A part of me wonders if it is better to try to gently steer her in the right direction while letting her figure this out on her own. I can’t stop thinking about how I would feel if I were Jan or Cindy, and I’m so disturbed that my smart, funny, and seemingly kind daughter is a mean girl.
— Mean Girl Mom
Dear Mean Girl Mom,
Sometimes kids prank and make fun of each other and mean no harm; sometimes they mean a great deal of harm; sometimes it is actually harmful, and sometimes it’s not. Without knowing the specifics, it’s hard to say how serious this is. Frankly, I think it’s a lot to monitor (read: read) all of your kid’s messages. Like, that is a lot of time you’re spending following her online footsteps! I hope she at least knows and understands that that’s the deal in your household? (If she does, could it be part of why she’s so private? Maybe she just wants something in her life to be?)
I don’t think you should let unkind behavior go unaddressed, but also don’t think it makes sense to order your daughter to end these friendships. I’d start by mentioning what you’ve seen, and ask her if she can explain the messages to you. I’m not trying to make excuses for her, or make light of what could be genuine toxicity or even bullying between so-called “friends,” but make sure you really understand what you’ve read in context. If what she says concerns you, make it clear that she’s not allowed to participate in any online behavior that hurts another person, and also make it clear why she shouldn’t want to—talk with her about online bullying and how many kids and teens have suffered because of it.
Ultimately, you don’t have a whole lot of control over your daughter’s friendships, her grudges, or who she likes or doesn’t like. But you can encourage her to adopt a “do no harm” attitude when it comes to her online communication and relationships, and try to help her grow into an empathetic person who thinks and cares about how other people feel.
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