How to Bully-Proof Your Middle School Daughter

Dealing with mean girls, frenemies and other friendship challenges

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Middle school is full of ups and downs. From power struggles and the rumor mill, to conflicting impulses and strong emotions, girls have a lot to deal with. But it's not all bad. Middle school also can be an exciting time for girls. They are developing close friendships, gaining some independence and forming their social circles.

The key is knowing what to expect and how to navigate the unpredictable waters of middle school friendships.

 Here are the top 14 things you can do to prepare your daughter for middle school and the friendships that go with it.

Understand friendships change in middle school. Unlike elementary school, now when girls get together, they mostly want to talk. They talk in person about music, movies, clothes, crafts, books and sometimes even boys. And when they can't talk in person, they will text or message one another. Parents who understand this change will be more prepared to help their daughters with challenges.

Communicate often. Listen to what your daughter is saying about school and friends. But do not immediately jump in and try to fix things. Instead, just allow her to talk. If you empathize with what she is saying, she will be more likely to keep you in the loop when things go wrong.

Build your daughter's self-esteem. A healthy self-esteem is one of the best ways to prevent bullying in your daughter's life.

Be sure you are doing all you can to help her feel good about herself because middle school can do a lot to unravel a girl's self-confidence.

Understand that the social hierarchy changes. Cliques get stronger; the need to be the one in control intensifies; and some girls get meaner. Much of this behavior stems from wanting to belong.

For some girls, the need to belong is so intense that they will do whatever they can to eliminate the competition. These girls are known as mean girls. They use rumors and gossip to control situations and bully other girls.

Familiarize yourself with all types of bullying. From cyberbullying and sexting to ostracizing and other forms of relational aggression, you need to be sure you know how kids are bullying today. While face-to-face bullying still exists, technology has created a new platform for bullying. Girls especially seem to embrace it. Don’t get left behind. Educate yourself and then educate your daughter.

Make sure your daughter knows how to spot a good friend. A good friend is the one who will look out for her, care about her, include her in activities and treat her with respect. Good friends are also empathetic, loyal and cooperative. Encourage her to find friends with these qualities. Help your daughter identify which girls might make suitable friends.

Caution your daughter about toxic friendships. These friendships are often characterized by subtle put-downs, manipulation, exclusion and other hurtful behaviors.

If your daughter has friends like this, she will struggle with negative feelings about herself. Frenemies often fall into this category. These are the friends who are nice to your daughter’s face, but gossip about her behind her back. Frenemies also try to control their friends and will use subtle put-downs to undermine self-esteem.

Tell her to avoid friendships with mean girls. Mean girls often spread rumors, whisper or laugh when other girls walk by and talk loudly about exclusive parties. They also gossip, tell lies and ostracize other girls. Although these girls may appear popular and well liked, many students just tolerate their behavior to avoid being the next victim. Urge your daughter to steer clear of these types of girls.

Encourage your daughter to have a wide range of friends. Although having a BFF (best friend forever) may look appealing, at this age girls need more than just one, exclusive friendship. It is wise for your daughter to have friends in a variety of areas in her life, such as friends from the neighborhood, school, church, and sports. This means she will have other people to turn to if something goes wrong with one of her other friendships.

Get to know your daughter's friends. Encourage your daughter to invite her friends over. When other girls are visiting, you get the chance to quietly observe your child's social interactions. You also can pick up on any issues. If you notice anything that is unsettling, be sure to talk with your daughter about it later.

Pay attention to how she is feeling. Although middle school is an emotional time for girls because of all the changes taking place in their bodies, it's also important to still watch for clues that something else is bothering them. Be on the lookout for any bullying warning signs. And take notice if she says there is a lot of "drama" at school or that she "doesn’t have any friends." Oftentimes, these are signs that bullying is taking place.

Allow your daughter to sort out friendship issues on her own. Don’t step in unless she is being bullied. Allowing her to work out the problems on her own teaches her valuable life skills. She will learn conflict resolution, assertiveness and problem solving.

Help your daughter learn to value and express her own opinions. While it is important to think of other people's needs, it's also important for girls to learn to be assertive, especially around potential bullies. The goal is that your daughter will learn to express differences of opinion in a respectful manner. You also want her to learn to defend herself when others are belittling her or bullying her.

Remember you are still the biggest influence in her life. While it can be disconcerting to see friends influencing clothing choices and music, remember that these choices are short-term. If you foster a positive and open relationship with your daughter, you will have the greatest influence on her values and morals. So do not get discouraged by the little changes you see. Instead, focus on the big picture.

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