Bullies, Cliques & Ostracism in Middle School
Archived Q&A and Reviews
My daughter is 12 years old. She does not like a particular girl I will call Emily. My daughter met Emily through a friend and from the beginning Emily was aggressive and told her mother stories that were not true to get others, including my daughter, in trouble.
We have brainstormed about how my daughter wants to handle the situation. She avoids Emily whenever she can, even to the point of changing her plans because Emily's mother yells at the girls or their parents who do not want to spend time with Emily.
It should not be a problem at all. Initially the girls went to the same school, but my daughter transferred. Emily has few friends - none that I know of that her mother is not friends with the moms of the girls. This has become a problem because Emily joined the same recreational soccer team, the same girl scout troop and the same Spanish class as my daughter. My daughter simply avoids Emily. Sometimes my daughter says hi, sometimes not. She really does not want to be around Emily, yet does not want to end activities she has participated in multiple years.
According to my daughter, the soccer coach and the girl scout troop leader, my daughter avoids Emily. Each of the women also said something similar to what my daughter expressed and that is that Emily has said things that at the very least stretched the truth and sometimes were outright lies about and to my daughter.
Emily's mom has now called others on the team and troop to find out why my daughter is ''so mean and excludes Emily.'' She has not contacted me. Emily's mother can be loud, abrasive and coarse to me, my daughter and others.
I believe that by age 12 girls should try to work out their differences. I will brainstorm ideas but think that my daughter should work to resolve her differences with others. She has successfully done so for many years, even with other girls, boys and adults with whom she has had conflict.
Should I take a more proactive role? Should I let the coaches, troop leaders and teachers handle the problem? Should I make my daughter address or say hello to Emily? It has only come to a head because other parents have approached me and quite frankly I simply state that I do not want to hear it. I believe that I should discuss it only with the adults who are in a position to work with both girls (teacher, coaches, leaders, etc.) Is 12 Years Old Mature Enough to Handle Conflict?
here's the super-brief armchair psychology answer:
It takes bully to raise a bully. Take what you see ''Emily's'' mom do and multiply that times 10 and you might have some idea what Emily's life is like. Now, how else do you expect Emily to behave? Aggression may be all she knows.
It sounds like Emily is directing much of her aggression toward your daughter, more than toward other girls - hence the pesky questions from other girls and their moms who don't really ''get'' what's going on.
I suggest that YOU step up to the plate and contact Emily's mom. Try a one-on-one convo to get a feel for her before trying a meeting of the 4 of you. If things don't go well (and sadly, I have a feeling they won't - but you need to try) you can then consider trying a meeting between Emily and your daughter. Perhaps, away from her mom, Emily will behave differently? But I would only try the meeting of the girls if you can approach Emily with genuine concern, kindness and compassion - which are probably very lacking in her life. Honestly, it sounds to me like Mom may have a personality disorder. Perhaps Emily's survival strategy is to join up with her mom in the aggressive behavior. She may not have much choice.
Once you have tried speaking with ''Emily's'' mom, and/or with ''Emily'', you'll have a better feel for what is really going on there, and can then decide what, if anything, you want to tell the other concerned parties. The fact that Emily's mom has complained to all the other moms, but has made no effort to contact you, should tell them the whole story... but people usually only see what they want to see.
Don't expect your daughter to have a clue how to handle this - it sounds WAY bigger than ''12 girls should try to work out their differences''. signed, sad for your daughter, but for ''Emily'', too
Looks like much of the challenge centers around the personality of ''emily's'' mother, which may be magnified with behavior the daughter uses to cope with her mother. I imagine that most parents she speaks with are aware of the mother's abrasiveness and dramatic tendency. If it were me, I would inform my daughter to be polite to the girl during activities AND tell her that she does not have to go out of her way to participate with ''emily'' in activities outside of those organized groups. I would inform the coach, troop leader and other organized group leaders that ''emily's'' mother is not thrilled that the two girls are not close, and that the leader may hear about that, and that you have instructed your daughter to be polite to Emily and treat her like a team mate or troop mate during organized group activities. that is all one can do. Keep your level head and help your daughter keep hers and it will, with any luck, blow over. another mom
In response to a response to your question, I would be VERY wary of meeting with the other child without their parent present and especially without the parent's permission. It puts that child at an automatic disadvantage. In addition, your questions and comments to her could easily be misconstrued when reported back to her mother, and it could put YOU in a bad position of defending yourself. Working on general issues of friendship as a whole group project at a scout meeting may be one way to proceed. The ''American Girls'' books on friendship and middle school are very good and may be of help to the troop and your daughter. (Just giving one to the other child probably would not be seen as a positive move). Anonymous
My 13 years old son attracts negative attention from his friends. Often happen that a fun game with friends easily turns into an attack of jumping, stealing his hat, calling names and so on. At first it seems like he enjoys it but then he looses control and can not stop the friends from doing it. The result is that he ends up feeling a victim, avoids friends and panicking before we go somewhere. Does anyone has an similar experience or advice on what to do to help him? Thank you! anon
i'm no expert. but i'll tell you how we dealt with it - and how i worked with my son to deal with it. he experienced some bullying last year when he was in 7th grade. it usually revolved around someone stealing a shoe or shorts, while they were changing for PE. and keep away would begin - and it would escalate. and the name calling. etc.
we spent a lot of time talking about why kids bully. we talked about bully personalities. we read and discussed lots of ways to deal with it. we practiced ways to talk back, etc. we discussed scenarios. he was adamant about me NOT contacting the school, for fear of reprisal. i gave him some time to deal with it himself, but told him that if it didn't stop after he tried to deal with it, i would go to the principal immediately. (although, i did begin communicating with the school immediately - to make them aware)
he was able to get it to stop - he built up the confidence to stand up and tell his friend to STOP or that he would indeed talk to the principal. i think he told them he was tired of dealing with it and wasn't going to continue to let it happen - and that they could deal with the result and aftermath of getting in trouble. he also made a showing at the lunch table that same day to show that he wasn't afraid or backing down. he gave himself the confidence to let them know the next few times, that he meant business. he used the phrases that we discussed during our conversations.
empower your kid. give him some tools to deal with these situations. help him gain confidence. teach him what to say. practice. and if it's happening at school - talk to the school. help yourself by educating yourself. i had no idea either how to deal with it - but a simple google search got me on the right path to help my kid deal with it, in his own way. he felt empowered. i stopped worrying so much. lauren
My sweet, 14 year old daughter has gone to Marin Academy for one year now. Although she started out there strong, happy, lots of friends, lots of invitations, phone calls, everything came to a complete stop about 3 months ago. No one ever calls her anymore. Tomorrow is the last day of school and she has no plans with anyone after school. My heart is absolutely breaking for her. She was very well-liked in middle school, and many of the same girls she was friends with then now go to MA. One in particular, who I never trusted, and was supposedly one of her best friends, seems to be the source of the rejection. I just made the mistake of reading what this girl wrote to my daughter in her yearbook, ''I understand how you must feel - I hope you are able to find your place to make things better for yourself . . . etc.'' It was more than condescending, and my daughter seems to just be taking it. I wish she'd show some anger. My question, should we change schools? If things keep going like this, I'll never forgive myself for not taking action. On the other hand, my daughter seems to think the school is really good, and things will turn around. There are only 50 girls in her class and it just seems so hopeless right now - I absolutely don't know what to do. I could send her to the local public high school, but she doesn't want to go. ELA
Does your daughter have a clue as to why she's being excluded? Is SHE upset about it? You are (and understandably so, don't get me wrong), but is she? It sounds as though she values the school and is willing to tolerate being the outsider, as it were. Just a thought, but has she possibly come out? That could explain a lot.
Your daughter sounds like a very mature girl. I suggest that you go in and talk to her adviser at school before you change schools. What if the same thing happens at the new school and she will feel even more rejected? Also, if she likes Marin A. itself, this is a big thing, and I'd definitely be reluctant to change schools before I had sounded out what the dynamic really is between the girls in the class and whether it is possible to change it.
Having said this, sometimes a school peer environment is simply toxic, and why should she have to endure this for another three years? My suspicion, though, is that the ringleader girls who want a scapegoat will get tired of their current fodder and switch their attentions to someone else. Ideally, this bullying needs to change, not your daughter's location. However, as I said at the start of this response, it would also be good to get an outside grown-up's opinion as to what is going on between the girls. P. K.
I don't know if I can help, but I sympathize. This happened with my daughter and it was due to one b----y little charismatic friend everyone looked up to and followed. This friend betrayed her and she was ostracized by everyone. It affected her confidence and though it happened 4 years ago, she's still coming out of it.
As for changing schools, I really think what she wants at this age is primary, even in this situation. She thinks it's a great school and wants to stay. Your taking her out will be a problem for that reason, and who knows what the situation would be like at the public school (though it may be better socially for sure), and then there's the change itself to be coped with. My daughter wanted to leave after soph year and then we did.
I'd say with trepidation to not take her out. Talk to her as much as possible about this - that can be hard at her age. I think the subject has to first come out between you. This did not happen fully with my daughter. I didn't know what had happened until way later, and every time I noticed her sadness and offered to listen, she wouldn't talk. I'm sure she was embarassed too, thinking she failed and was to blame somehow. My daughter did go to therapy a bit later for issues stemming to a high degree from this. To mention therapy now, if you can frame it as her coping with a traumatic event, which it is... if she's not taking it in and blaming herself and discounting you due to her age so that she won't believe you're suggesting therapy because it's her fault, then do it.
She's a bit old for the mothers to be getting together about problems, but... MA is small. Do you know other mothers? What about teachers or counselors there - can you talk to them? Can you talk to your daughter about getting into activities? Doing special projects in and out of school. Summer's a time to start something different and fun.
Looking back, I think my daughter and I both did the best we could at the time, AND it hurt short and long term. Don't give up talking to your daughter as she allows it. If it helps, you can tell her the story of my daughter. A few years later she realized how hostile that act was and how the nastiness resided in that girl, not her. She realized that it was a trauma, she realized she could have spoken up but forgave herself because it would have been daunting for anyone alone against a number of others. She also realized that all the others were not the same as that girl and she could have approached things one new friend at a time but she didn't have the confidence or skill. She had to forgive herself for that. And at one point, the perpetrator allowed her briefly back in with some sweet talk, and my daughter allowed that so that she could be accepted. She had to forgive herself for that and for never telling that girl off. She realized it was not her fault and there are nice people out there who don't operate in a group mentality. Easier to find after high school. She still has trouble trusting girls her own age. Anon
What a heartbreaking situation for you and your daughter. My older daughter went through similar incidents, and did end up changing schools after sophomore year. The change took about 18 months to process so it wasn't until spring of her Senior year that she felt recovered.
I think her road to recovery began when her three best friends didn't speak to her for 3-4 months and she weathered the storm with the help of a male friend. Boys see things differently and that male perspective really helped my daughter. She was unwilling to see a therapist.
If your daughter wants to stay at MA, then that sounds like a viable solution. One way to have some social life apart from making close friends is to join a sports team, or musical group, an ongoing multi-day dance or art program, or other group activity or hobby. Or take on something big - horse jumping, hang gliding, auto racing (my daughter's choice). mother who's been there
We really relate to you, we went through a very similar situation at MA. My daughter left after freshman year as well. I don't have much advice except to listen to what she's saying. Some of the social stuff should and will get better with age, it really does. She sounds like she wants to stay, we moved for more than just social , though the social situation was the same. Starting over in a public school is no cake walk. I helped my daughter by planning a few fun things to look forward to in the summer, and looked to ''old'' friends from middle school to rely on. While we did move on, and my daughter is older for her grade than yours, time has helped many things. Some of these small schools just don't have enough kids to play with and if you live far away from school it makes things tough. In particular at MA, she just couldn't find that balance of fun, friends and academics. Tough to find. Good luck, it sounds like she may be able to work through it, be sure you get the support you need to let her. I had to do that as well. All the best. Feel free to e-mail. n
Wow, I could have written your post. We're experiencing the same thing - a great start to freshman year, then suddenly the social life just dries up. It seems my daughter was also frozen out of her group of friends. We're still trying to sort things out here, but I did have some thoughts based on our experience. First I congratulate your daughter for feeling confident enough to want to keep at it and not give up. If she's optomistic, why wouldn't you be? Every relationship is a two way street. While this could surely be kids just being mean, it's only fair to try to understand if there's anything your daughter could have done differently. And are you sure your daughter's friend is to blame? If you never trusted her, does that make it easier to believe it's all her fault? We always hurt for our children, and I'm as angry with my daughter's situation as you are with yours. But I still think we have to take the lead from them. Honestly, I wish my daughter was as confident and positive as yours! Unless your daughter is really being abused, I'd keep her there and let her figure out how to deal with these social dynamics - these will be good life skills. Good luck. Hoping We Get Through This Too
Actually, it *is* a big deal if your daughter is on the outside. The nasty remarks, the ''uninvited'' events, the ugly and vulgar names and the idiotic social climbing are annoying. Most of this stuff stems, not from the girls themselves, but from under-scheduled and over-controlling moms who think this is how they move up in rank in the pecking order. You're just seeing how awful the parents really are, and they are really awful. My daughters have talked to a number of their friends and often found that the girls were *not* allowed to talk to certain other girls, visit them or invite them to events by their mothers and did *not* know the reason. They were unhappy too!
It's difficult given that a concerned parent (esp. in affluent school districts - I know, I'm in one) expects some kind of responsiveness from school officials, but given how this stuff usually originates, how do you control socially inept parents? But there are ways to mitigate and bypass these idiots. Often this means deleting some of these kids from your kid's life, for a while - my youngest talks to some of her old friends from middle school on occasion, and is noticing the beginnings of lightening up, but it is *slow*. But they'll recover nicely, and you'll feel better.
My oldest got into a sports group (volleyball and track) in 6th grade. That became her support group. That was close to a decade ago, though, and I think times have changed. Parents are more desperate to hang with a crowd, and that translates into meddling into their kid's lives.
My son got so bummed about middle school I took him partially out of 6th grade (he stayed in history), did some home schooling and time off for fun, then put him back in. Yes, I gave him a scholar's vacation (he learned Fibonacci sequences, for example). It was the beginning of rebuilding his confidence. I also got him to enter science competitions, attend colloquia on science topics, and work on tech projects. He did a lot of independent research (with awards) and eventually built up a social and professional network independent of other students (although had involvement of high school teachers). That led to a summer physics internship at UC before senior year. He's now going to UCLA and works for *two* startups in Silicon Valley. He also has begun to build a college group of friends (they've escaped their parents) who matter. He stayed in middle school and high school, but built a life outside of school - one that transfers nicely to the ''real'' world. It was important to teach him to keep his eye on his goals, and not get swept up in petty matters like high school.
My youngest was also in sports (basketball) since 6th grade, but got pushed out of her sports group once the season ended. Unlike the oldest, she had no teacher support or other activities since they'd cut them due to budget. She knew her goal - she wanted to study physics at UC. She said she wanted out, because they were going too slow. So after 7th grade, she was off to college: Ohlone College in Fremont has a K-12 ''exceptional student'' admission policy. She's spent a full year there, and while her cohort are getting ready for 9th grade algebra (or maybe geometry) in fall, she'll be doing calculus, freshman biology (she did the college chem and English sequences already) and history classes. She's even got her own ''all girl'' study group (Ohlone has a good number of bright young women, often from conservative immigrant families, who are serious about their studies). She does star parties for elementary school students with her dad, is an EYH Ambassador, and has her own video production company on the side. And she still has friends her own age (but not at her old school - they're friends from Montalvo art camp - and they're together because they love art).
All I can say in watching three different kids and how they handled stupid (parent-promoted really) kid behavior is ''life is too short to worry about this stuff''. There is a wonderful world of ideas and hobbies and competitions, art and music and literature, and friends to be found bound by interest and ability - not a happenstance of geographic locality. So get her out of herself and about - to talks, to camps, maybe even to college. And expect to put in a *lot* of time. It's not about money - it's about time. It took years to get our kids up-to-speed on their scientific interests (like astronomy or computers). Many years of ''family star parties'' and ''family physics lecture at Cal''. And lots of time now commuting to college 50 miles away when the high school is 10. But I am so glad we did. Good luck. Lynne
My son is a 6th grader, age 12 years. He is very selective when it comes to kids he wants to spend time with. He has about 4 friends he will call to invite over to play. The problem is, these 4 friends are popular kids that are part of a strong clique, and these kids only occasionally accept invitations to play. It's also hard because he is often not invited. Just recently, he attended a party with these boys. When it was time to leave, these boys carried sleeping bags with them as they got into the car of a parent. My son was hurt that he was not asked to join them for the sleepover. Am I being too sensitive in thinking that parents should be more considerate of other children's feelings? Also, what are some ways to encourage my son to expand his circle of friends.
Hoo boy! Do I resinate and sympathize with your situation. But...my son is now 14 1/2 and he has lived through it and learned from it and even, in the long view, is a better person for it.
The sleeping bag incident is particularly harsh but in line with stuff I've seen. Should the parents know better? I think so. The kids? The amount of empathy I've seen in most 12 year old boys could fit in a thimble. I think some kids are born sensitive to others, but with many it needs to be learned. One way to learn is from being on the receiving side of oafish insensitivity.
A big factor that helped my son cope was that he was involved in theater programs that emphasized team building and support. He developed a nice social network through that. Probably other types of sociable extracurriculars would be as helpful. At present, he gets along with the kids that he had wanted to be friends with but doesn't see them outside of school. His best friends are ones he found through theater. But even if this doesn't happen for your son, he would still benefit from having a side of his life that is his and is not dependent on school buddies.
Glad to be done with that phase
Anybody got any good reading suggestions for how to deal with middle school girls and their proclivity to selectively exclude people from their in-group from week to week? I am about at my wit's end as to how to advise my daughter in dealing with these sorts of friends.... N
Problems with cliques are so common in middle school and even early on in high school. This happens especially among girls. We have found with our own girls, that the best way to deal with this sort of exclusionary behavior is to help them understand that the kids who do this do so out of either low self-esteem or the need to feel like part of the crowd or sometimes aren't even aware of the impact their behavior is having on other people because they are so self-absorbed. Good luck!
We moved to the East Bay 3 years ago, at the time our daughter was entering middle school. During her years in middle school she made a small circle of friends, most of them other girls who, like her, were good athletes who played team sports. Last spring, during her last semester of middle school, she decided to leave the local recreational sports program so she could play fastpitch softball with a highly competitive travelling team. Immediately she was dropped by nearly all her school friends, who saw her as betraying the local program. She finished middle school with almost no local friends. Over the summer she made new friends through her softball team, but none of the girls are local, so socializing is difficult. When she started high school this fall, we were hopeful that the passage of time and the transition to high school would allow her to re-establish her old local friendships. But if anything, the ostracism was worse this year, and is being deliberately orchestrated by one or two girls who enjoy the status of opinion leaders in the freshman class. Our daughter says that even girls who are not part of the athletes' group now walk the other way when they see her coming. Our daughter is miserable and keeps pressing us to move so she can go to another school.
Has anyone faced this sort of situation? If so, are there any answers to the problem? Moving is not an option, but we're not ready for our daughter to spend the next 4 years like this either.
One thing you can say about Berkeley High is that there are a lot of kids at the school. It seems almost unfathomable that there are one or two social leaders in the freshman class who are making your daughter's social life miserable. I think there must upwards of 500 other girls she can connect with. For both my 2 boys 9th grade didn't provide any instant social group. There were plenty of lonely times. By 10th grade things came together. Boys started to be friends with girls in a more meaningful way- not just as girlfriends but part of the larger socal network they called their friends. I have a hunch your daughter is trying to make her way into a clique that isn't very open. THere are so many kids and so much to do I'd encourage her to branch out- check out one of the hundreds of clubs and sports. But it might be slow going. I'd caution you against assuming it's all out there and start exploring what she needs to do to get engaged. Ninth grade is a tough transition, especially if she didn't enter with a tight knit social group already. Maybe some of her transition problems are all being clustered into this friends issue. One last thought- many kids who come in with a cohesive group end up branching out (hopefully!) and including all kinds of new people as time goes on. Many kids find their old friends to be more a part of who they were and they make new ones based more around who they are now. Expect slow going and encourage her that even though it feels awful now it's only 2 months in. Things take time. Perhaps this struggle will also give her some vital experience around resiliency: in other words how to deal with meanness, where to go that feels good and what to move away from. Good luck
Re Ostracism - Have you tried conflict resolution through the Health Center?
Every year, the school recommends that the kids join something, lots of things. Clubs, sports, something. This is the way the kids make connections. I also think this is a good idea, particularly if making friends is a problem. BHS has lots of choices.
I think for girls there is a very fine line between self-confidence and bragging. Your daughters friends may perceive that she thinks that she is better than they are and that's why they don't want to associate with her anymore. Perhaps she could get involved with a sport at Berkeley High to meet other BHS girls but it might also be helpful to her to get a little honest feedback on how she's coming across.
To the anonymous parent concerned about her daughter's ostracism at school, if she goes to BHS then I feel I can answer your concern a bit by assuring you that any child who likes athletics and is relatively good at it will make friends with other athletes in high school. What your daughter has to do is drop her notion that she needs to re-establish friendships with girls who dropped her for wanting to be on a competitive, traveling fastpitch softball team. Team sports have done for girls what they have always done for boys--given them more self-assurance, made them tougher, but you have to have a passion for the sport you're playing, keep playing and then you will grow as an athlete and a person. Your daughter will learn about teamwork but must also learn to appreciate herself as an individual. If you've only moved to the East Bay three years ago it takes time to establish friendships. Three years is not enough if your daughter spends a lot of time practicing with a traveling team (the best girls' fastpitch softball teams seem to come out of Concord, Livermore--that area--not Berkeley or Albany) whose team members are not local. The issue here is perhaps something that happens to teens whether they're into sports or not, and that is doing something different, not fitting in with the crowd. Being an individual is tough for a teenager, and to stand alone playing a sport apart, or being involved in something totally different from others in your age group may make you feel like an outcast. Your daughter has to give herself more time to develop in her sport and in her academics. If she's serious about softball she can try out for varsity softball at BHS in the spring, keep playing on a competitive traveling team, and keep up her academics. It would be a good idea for you to give her the long view of sports in high school and beyond coupled with the need always to keep up her grades (I often see articles about athletes in high school and their success playing in college; I cut these articles out of the paper and post them on the refrigerator to inspire my daughter and/or to keep her interested and focused on what she could be doing in her future). Your daughter will adjust if she can remain focused and not be bothered by the pettiness of her former middle school classmates. After all, they have to grow up too, and maybe your daughter will grow a bit wiser knowing she doesn't have to be like every other freshman girl in her class.
On the newsletter discussion about social ostracism, the other day I discussed briefly with my son the comments in this newsletter about kids being ostracized and called gay, or afraid to reveal that their parents are lesbian. My son said, oh yeah, mom, kids at middle school are just mean and it is so different and friendly in comparison at high school now. (Although ninth grade was tough!) Why?--just developmental stages, says he. And I should add, he was pretty insufferable and difficult throughout middle school---so there is hope---they are really becoming the solid people we hope for in high school.