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Child Caring

These 15-year-olds are excluding a long-time friend

Hello Barbara,
\Longtime fan, first time writer! My daughter is 15 and has a tight group of friends most of whom she became close with through shared sports. It's a co-ed group, but there's a tight girl-only sub-group. There is a girl in the group they've been excluding lately because she is "annoying." My daughter certainly has not stuck up for her or encouraged that she be included. I don't know how strong a voice she has been in the group to exclude (getting info from is is like pulling teeth!) My question is, as a parent, how much shyould I or other parents intervene? We live in a small town, we all know each other and are friendly. Personally, I think she's a nice kid and I can't imagine she's so annoying that they can't continue to include her in group events. She ran into the group recently during an outing to which she was not invited and she was very hurt. So do I make my daughter include her, [or] let things run their course? Help!

From :Berklady21, Western Ma

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Dear Berklady21,

"Annoying" is the word kids use when they don't want to have to spell it out to us old fogies. It could be code for just about anything, from being a nerd to being a slut, which, by the way, can have a range of meanings, too and may -- or may not -- have any basis in reality. What's more, girls' reputations typically rise and fall on what amounts to not much more than someone's whim: She wore the "wrong" tank top. She got an A. And who's the someone who decides all this? Sometimes, it's a group effort, sometimes not so much. If anything, it's the result of someone's insecurity: girls (and sometimes boys, but not as much) make another girl the object of their scorn as a way to keep the finger from pointing at them.

In other words, this whole thing can be scary and vindictive. Even if your daughter feels empathy for this girl who's on the outs -- even if she knows what's happening is wrong or mean -- she may not have the courage to stand up for her because the group could turn on her.

A parent's role in all this is tricky because you don't know the true dynamics of the group, where your daughter stands, or what the girl in question has or hasn't done. Being direct with your daughter will only make her defensive ("Why are you yelling at me!?) and angry ("You don't know what you're talking about!") Here are some suggestions:

Label and identify what you observe without singling your daughter out: "I notice the group hasn't been including Mary." When she answers, "She's really annoying," ask, "So what does that mean, anyway?"

Look for ways to make your daughter an expert. Watching tv or videos together is often your best entry point because you can make a passing comment on plot etc: "Boy, I didn't see that coming, did you? I mean, why are they all so mean to her all of a sudden?"

Weigh in with your values but make it about you, not about her: "One of things I admire about my friend Joan is the way she sticks up for the under dog. That's such an important quality in a friend. Did I tell you what happened yesterday? She blew me away."

Want to be more direct? It's a lot easier if you observe mean or petty behavior firsthand: "I heard in the car what Hannah said about Mary. That was really cruel. It bothers me. What's going on?" With any luck, she'll open up ("Mom, I hate what's going on!") and then your job is to resist telling her what to do and, instead, brainstorm with her so that she can own whatever idea materializes.

Since you're friendly with the other moms, talk about starting a mother/daughter book group. I know high school girls have busy lives, but organizing a group where moms and daughters (mom /sons, dads/sons, etc) ) read together is one of the best ways I know to get values -- yours and theirs -- on the table in a meaningful way. And if that feels too contrived, start by inviting a few of these moms and daughters over sometime this summer just because you want to. (Your daughter will want a reason.) So maybe you prime the moms a bit beforehand.....See where it goes. A group conversation can be a lot less threatening, and summer is a great time to watch and see if dynamics shift.

If you want to read up over the summer yourself, here are some titles I recommend:

"The Secret Life of Girls" by Sharon Lamb; "Queen Bees & Wannabes, Helping your daughter survive cliques, gossip, boyfriends, and other realities of adolescence, by Rosalind Wiseman.