Equipping your teenage daughter for dealing with cliques
Unfortunately, cliques and rejection are part of the adolescent experience, but there are ways you can help your teenager cope.
Explain cliques and their mean manoeuvres to your child in terms of power and control, not friendship. Since all teenagers feel insecure, they struggle with being accepted. Some try to forget their own negative self-image by controlling others. Some attempt to make themselves feel better by ridiculing the shortcomings of others.
Witnesses of the persecution don't speak up or rush to defend a victim, even a good friend, for fear of being rejected or, worse, targeted next. Ask your child to observe the central features: Who is included? Who is not? Who decides? Who agrees? Does anyone ever disagree? Have a discussion about what happens if someone reaches out to rescue a shunned victim.
Victims and body image
Immediately reassure your child that being shunned is not her fault. Tell her that she did nothing wrong and take care to make sure she knows that real friends will like her just the way she is. Girls who are socially ridiculed develop negative body images, concluded Dr. L. Kris Gowen after studying 157 girls between the ages of ten and 13. Victimized girls mistakenly think that if they were just prettier or thinner then they wouldn't be teased. Tell your child that this kind of mean-spirited torment is unfortunately part of early adolescence. Unless young adolescent girls are taught that the teasing is not their fault, they can come away permanently scarred and may spend the rest of their lives trying to understand their humiliation episodes.
The sea of confessions from mothers who, to this day, recall vividly their own similar war stories has truly amazed us. Even celebrities, famous for beauty, charm and achievement, such as Kim Basinger and Hillary Rodham Clinton, have gone on record with tales of pre-adolescent trauma. Share your own memories of scapegoating.
Strategies for victory
Turn your child from victim to victor. Admit that you can't always make the painful drama disappear. You can talk to your child's teacher, who can work to eliminate the behaviour in the school. Brainstorm with your child to get her to identify options. This is hard, certainly. It's not as easy as picking up her lunch tray and sitting at another table in the cafeteria. Secondary school is no picnic.
However, there are choices. She can ignore the tormentors rather than trying to befriend them again. She can start looking for new friends, among the boys in school, or in groups outside of school. You want to explode the image of powerlessness your daughter may have for herself, along with a belief that she is at the mercy of others. This 12-year-old girl's reasoning is healthy: 'I have other friends, so if I have one or two fewer, it won't kill me.' All adolescents need a view that includes possibility.
Don't join the fray. Some mothers telephone the offending girl's mother. What begins as a mature and logical step can turn the clique crisis into an adult catfight.
Promise your hurt, clique-weary child that this, too, will pass. It will. We promise.