Teaching Our Girls About Friendship

IMG_5409This post is part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion movement, an online campaign happening on February 20, 2015 to flood the blogosphere with kindness, caring, compassion, non-judgement and all around goodness. To read other stories of compassion, check out the hashtag #1000Speak on Facebook and Twitter.

My daughter is in 7th grade in a small private school. She’s known most of the kids in her class since kindergarten and even one or two since preschool. While they’re not all close friends, there isn’t much overt bullying going on. The teasing and undermining is much more subtle than that. 

At the beginning of the school year I began hearing from my daughter about some of the comments zinging around the class, most often among the girls. They go something like this:

“Why are you wearing those leggings?”

“What did you do with your hair? Just, no.”

What is that smell? Don’t you use deodorant? Gross.”

These comments are made in a derisive tone, well within earshot of others – in the classroom before everyone’s settled, in the hallways while switching classes, in a small group at lunchtime. It’s bad enough being called out publicly about bodily functions and personal fashion choices, but what breaks my heart is that my daughter, who occasionally has been the target of these careless words, considers some of the commenters her friends.

Which makes me wonder: do our girls really know what it means to be a friend?

I think back to when my daughter was young and I supervised her little girl play dates. When there was bickering over who got to play with what toy first, I helped the girls take turns. If someone used unkind words, we talked about hurt feelings and how we could say what we needed to say in a nicer way. We practiced sharing. There was no screen time. Two hours and a bowl of Goldfish later, the little ones would smile and hug each other goodbye. Easy. Simple.

Now my daughter and her friends don’t have play dates; they hang out. They ask to be dropped off at Starbucks. They squirrel themselves away in her bedroom, whispering and giggling. They share their lives through Instagram, Snapchat and grammatically incorrect texts full of emoticons and acronyms. As a parent, I’m mostly on the sidelines — available but rarely called on. The opportunity to help her navigate relationships in real time is so limited, yet it feels like this is when she needs the most guidance.

Middle school is a time of tremendous change and increased demands for our daughters: breakouts, boobs, periods, crushes, school dances, fear of missing out, fear of being left out, constant connectivity through technology, more rigorous homework, more challenging classwork, plus an array of after school activities. It’s a lot to handle. At home, my daughter gets a lot of love and support and a fair amount of structure, but I know she’s relying more and more on her peers for direction as she begins to piece together who she is and what she’s all about. When I hear about this lack of compassion among the girls in her class, it makes me think it’s time for us to step back in to their social lives – even if they don’t like it, even if it’s awkward.

Teaching our girls not to bully and to speak up when they see or hear one person being unkind to another is the first step, but we have to do more than that. We have to teach our girls to build each other up everyday. A true friend will offer support instead of giving in to jealousy. She will say yes instead of no, awesome instead of lame. She will pull you aside in private to let you know something that might be embarrassing, not call you out in front of the class. She will listen to you with an open heart. You might be competitive with each other, but that competition is inspiring instead of mean-spirited. You instill confidence in each other. You accept each other’s differences and champion each other’s creativity. In a true friendship, you choose compassion over judgment. Our girls should not settle for less.

I don’t think this kind of behavior is atypical for the age, but that doesn’t make it okay. I don’t think my daughter’s never said a careless or inconsiderate word to a peer or a friend. I don’t expect her to like or get along with everyone she meets and vice versa. To those people I tell her, at the very least, do not be unkind. If that means saying nothing at all, then say nothing. What I want her to understand is how to be a good friend, how to recognize friendship in others and how to disengage with girls who undercut her confidence.

Girls don’t need to tear each other down – there are plenty of other people in this world who will do that for them. Instead, I want to encourage my daughter and her friends to be each other’s biggest fans, to believe in the power and beauty of friendship and to start with compassion.

1000Speak started with an understanding that even though we might get older, we still all need the metaphorical village around us, and the compassion of others in our lives. Then the sudden thought happened — what if 1000 of us wrote about compassion all at once? From there, the movement has taken on its own life; has burgeoned and grown and spread a whole lot of love and connection and ‘villageyness’.

Spread the love using the hashtag #1000Speak. Join the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion group on Facebook. Together we’re stronger.

52 thoughts on “Teaching Our Girls About Friendship

  1. My son is almost to middle school age and they have their own set of issues. I’m worried about my girls as they aren’t even in elementary school, but I know how rough girls could be… which is one of the reasons that I hung out with boys.

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    1. I’m sure boys face a whole other set of challenges that can be just as difficult as what I’m seeing with my girls. Girls can be mean, but there’s also a tenderness in our kids at this age that I just hope will shine through. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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    1. Thanks so much Amanda. I let my oldest read it before I posted (anything that has anything to do with her gets her thumbs up before posting). We’ve talked about this stuff before, but it opened up the conversation even further and she started giving me her ideas around what girls can do when they find themselves in uncomfortable, embarrassing or unkind situations. Our girls are sweet and wise, but they’re not always sure how to act on those traits under peer pressure.

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  2. It breaks my heart to read and know this, Lisa.

    I remember my mother telling me a story when I was younger. She had a close group of girlfriends–they were the pretty ones, the popular ones– and then there was this other girl, a newcomer (let’s call her Sandy), that no one seemed to like or accept. One day, one of my mom’s “close” girlfriends (let’s call her Jo) invited her over and into the basement to play. While they did, Jo asked her all sorts of questions, including some about Sandy. When Jo asked mom if she liked Sandy, she replied with, “No, she’s a little weird”, after which her Jo walked over to the closet door and opened it. To my mother’s horror, Sandy was hidden there, in tears. Jo was laughing.

    My mother never forgot that day and she made sure I didn’t forget it either.

    Unfortunately, women can be so catty and cruel. And most, if not all, of our venom stems from our own lack of self-worth and self-esteem. If we were more secure in ourselves, at any age, we wouldn’t have to step on the hearts of others to feel better.

    Jo and Sandy remind me of this.
    And, sadly, it continues.

    With heart,
    Dani

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    1. What an amazing and heart wrenching story Dani. Girls really can be so cruel (as can grown women) to one another. No matter how bad you’re feeling about yourself it NEVER makes you feel better to tear someone else down or be a part of something like that. That’s the message I want my girls to know. Choosing compassion, kindness, even when it’s really hard and not popular, is always always better. Being a supportive, true friend and surrounding yourself with true friends, that’s what works. Thank you so much for your words and sharing that story. xo

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  3. Lisa, what I like about your approach to raising daughters (I have only sons myself, which is a whole ‘nuther middle school experience!) is how you are consciously trying to build your girl’s self-confidence in the context of showing compassion. It is really hard to show compassion to others without being forgiving of ourselves. In a middle school girl, coming to terms with huge changes in body, social surroundings, schoolwork, and everything else could be so overwhelming that self-compassion gets lost. You are so clear with your daughter about being strong, confident and self-compassionate that she will be able to radiate her positive feelings to those around her.

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    1. Anna, your words mean so much to me – thank you. I really do hope I’m doing right by my girls, both in word and in action. It’s a challenge to stay positive and compassionate in middle school (heck, it’s a challenge in everyday life!), but I know my girl FEELS better when she’s acting in a kind way, even if it’s not the most popular way. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comments.

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  4. I really related to this post.

    My daughter is in third grade and we have already had many talks about how to be a friend and standing up for yourself when people are not treating you right. She had an incident and her first reaction was to just go play with someone else….I told her she needs to stand up for herself and we didn’t make a big deal.It took her a few days but she came home one day excited she had done it and her friend apologized and said she would try to be better.

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    1. This is so wonderful to hear! We do need to tell our girls to stand up for themselves and empower themselves. It’s interesting because when our kids are little, we do often tell them to avoid conflict and play with someone else if they’re rejected or mistreated. As they get older, we find we want to encourage them to speak up. I’m glad this worked for your daughter 🙂

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  5. As the mother of a 9 year old, I identify with this so much. Those little snarky comments are already happening. And while I do think on the whole my daughter is lucky to be in a pretty good class of girls, they don’t always know how to be good friends to each other. It’s such a hard thing to teach.

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    1. It’s really hard to teach, I agree. I’ve been thinking a lot about us as role models and realizing I could do a better job in that department, including pointing out positive acts of friendship between me and my girlfriends. Ah, raising girls…

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  6. I know the mean girls and the mean moms from my time as a kid and as a father. The mishegoss that comes with all of this middle school nonsense makes me want to tear my hair out, but there is no way around it.

    All we can do is try to teach our children to be kinder, do better and how to manage the BS that is flung their way.

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  7. AMEN. And Amen again (just for good measure)! 🙂 Middle school is hard enough as it is without mean girls being, well, mean. And when no one steps in and rather decides to let nature take it’s course – those mean girls grow up to mean moms who say those same mean things. Except at PTA meetings. 😀

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    1. Oh crap, yes, the mean girls who grow up to be mean moms…ack! Even more reason to step in now, much to my daughter’s embarrassment, I might add. I do know my limits. Luckily, she was okay with this blog post. Great to connect with you!

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  8. Well said, Lisa. My daughter went through middle school relatively unscathed; fortunately she didn’t experience mean girls or friendship drama. She was lucky, but not every girl is.

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    1. Thank you Dana. My daughter is doing pretty well too. There’s just the occasional “mean” comment, whether directed at her or someone else. Remembering my own MS years, I know it’s part o the territory. I’m always looking for opportunities to help her make sense of and act positively in these moments.

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  9. Middle school is so so awkward and weird and scary and confusing and more so when navigating the complexities of friendships and body stuff. Sigh. I’m so glad that you wrote about this for #1000Speak because teaching our kids empathy and compassion is so so huge.

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    1. Middle School is weird! Sometimes I can’t believe we made it through! My daughter is a strong girl and has her friends….it’s just those sometimes comments that she either overhears or has said to her that can really throw her for a loop. I just want her to hold on to her confidence and make good choices with both her friends and her words.

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  10. You’re such a good mom Lisa.. I know that first hand. I worry about the bullies at school – whose parents are NOT helping them like you are with your girls. Couldn’t you suggest to the school that you talk to all the children in 6th and 7th grade at least… give them your talk on compassion? Just a thought. Love and hugs to all xxx

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    1. Thank you so much Di. I’d love to talk to the kids, but I’m pretty sure Ella would think that totally mortifying. Our school actually has a pretty decent program in place for the kids to share and talk about what’s going on in the class. Sometimes it’s together and sometimes it’s boys and girls separately. I’ll just keep plugging away from the home front 🙂 xo

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  11. I’ll be honest, Lisa, middle school scares me to death. My oldest is eight and I’ve already been awe-struck at how mean girls can be. I feel so unprepared for what lies ahead. Your daughter is lucky to have such a wise advocate for a mother. You are so right on with this post. How can we inspire these girls, at an age when that behavior is sort of “normal” yet still destructive, to get on board with compassion instead of cruelty?

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    1. It is a little scary Stephanie, but it’s also so exciting. Girls really bloom in middle school. They come alive figuring out what they love and what they’re capable of. Then again, they also become more secretive in some ways as they create themselves apart from us. Yes, there are mean girls and sometimes it’s even YOUR girl. Parenting at this point is even more rigorous than it was when they were little and demands all kinds of different tactics. It’s definitely a learning experience for us both.

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  12. I have a four year old daughter. I worry every day about what it will be like when she reaches the “mean girl” stage. I worry too that she will be hurt by other girls, but more than that, I don’t want my child to be one of them…the mean girls. I’ve said many times that I think it starts with us, the mothers, the models. I watch very closely what I say about other women. I try to always compliment women in front of my daughter, to build up other people vocally so that she can hear it. I don’t gossip with my own girlfriends in front of her, and when I have an issue with another woman, I try to reach out to her and handle it diplomatically with resolution. I think it’s all we can do, to show our girls what kindness looks like, what it’s like to care for other people. Someone said to me the other day about women: “you’re your own worst enemies,” and he’s right. By becoming friends instead of enemies, we can pave a nicer journey for our daughters. Okay, let me climb down from my soap box.

    I’m so glad #1000Speak brought me to your blog. Great post.

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    1. Mandi, it’s so wonderful to “meet” you here! Your point about modeling friendship with other women — it’s so important and I know I’m not always doing my best with that. I have to remind myself and tell my girls that it FEELS so much better when we reach out, cheer each other on and view the success of others with happiness. You are welcome to climb onto your soapbox anytime ❤

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    1. You know, I thought about this when I was writing this post, but I have three girls and no real experience with boys of this age or what they’re going through. I’d love to hear the boy perspective though.

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      1. I’ll see what I can do– my blogging rate has slowed with some health problems. I do have a son, and he’s got autism to boot– I have no idea how he’ll be treated once he reaches this age.

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  13. Great post! I have three girls as well and my oldest is in 7th grade also. Her friendships have changed drastically this year. Fortunately, it’s been for the best, but I have certainly heard some of the mean girl stories.

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  14. It’s been 35 years since I was in middle school and I still have four girlfriends from that time. We even went our separate ways for high school and kept in touch even with some of us living in different states now. Looking back, I don’t know how we managed our friendship. The middle school years are so hard. I assume compassion for one another had everything to do with it. I hope for all of our children to grow up and have these lasting friendships.

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    1. That is so amazing Kenya. I really hope my daughters will still have some of the friendships they have now many years into the future. I’m in touch with only one close friend from middle school and very infrequently. It’s definitely a time that sticks with you, good or bad.

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  15. gosh! I can relate to your thing. My son is a middle schooler…and I see all those issues creeping in. I try to make myself available 24*7 for his demands so that he does not stray off…and yes, that “lecture” of compassion is like a recorder playing in our house.

    Phew!

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    1. I’m so glad you can relate Ruchira because I realize this post is very girl/daughter-centric. I have three of them so this is my world! Talking a lot about compassion and kindness is definitely going on in my house but I was just reading Janine’s post and it reminded me that our kids are super sensitive to all the ways we act and model compassion. I’ve got to keep that in mind more, especially when driving 😉

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  16. Each time I read a post of yours on motherhood/parenting I think how fortunate your children are. And more how fortunate the world is that you and your family are living considered lives.

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  17. Great message and my girls are still at the play date age, but someday soon they will be treading into the middle school years and as a former middle school teacher, I truly hope and pray for them to be able to make it through unscathed as much as possible with compassion being at the forefront. I am trying not to be naive, but still want to hold this hope out, too.

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    1. It’s really such a challenge in middle school. It’s such a delicate time: I want my daughter to be independent, to figure out who she is, but I also worry about her getting hurt. I tend to take on her sadness and challenges as my own, so it gets pretty emotional in our house. Parenting an almost teen is my new frontier. I’m learning right along with her.

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    2. My daughter was bullied even before her middle school years started. I suppose that’s in part to the toxic environment we lived in at the time, and the rather poor environment of the school district’s gifted program (her fifth grade teacher would NOT help, no matter what pressure was applied).

      She’s doing a LOT better in middle school (7th grade now), especially compared to the liquid hellfire that my middle school years were. I guess I can attribute some of that to the efforts of myself and my wife– we are determined to empower her, not just because preteen kids can be cruel, but because we were abused, as well as bullied, as children.

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      1. Thanks for sharing that story about your daughter – I’m so sorry she had to deal with that. It’s great that you and your wife are committed to empowering her. I too had a crappy middles school experience and I believe instilling confidence in our girls is key. Fortunately, my daughter’s challenges are manageable learning experiences so far. Thanks for stopping by!

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