In middle school our group got really close, but we had one friend who was really bad. She would pick one of us to be her BFF. Even in third grade it was a big deal. She needed someone to be with her all the time. She’d force the picked girl to have matching backpacks and shoes. We didn’t handle the situation well. We took out our anger and said mean things about her. She doesn’t go to school with us now because she left. I asked myself why she was my friend when she made me so miserable. The moments we had were so great but I knew it was so destructive.
I just went through my daughter’s texts and want to throw up. I couldn’t believe the language she was using about herself and the other kids in her class.
My parents are ridiculously controlling. They investigate the background of every friend. I feel like I’m trapped, and when I talk to them they don’t listen. I’m fourteen but mature for my age. I’m really responsible and always get good grades. How can I talk to them? Everything feels like a power struggle. They’re dictator parents, combined with helicopter parents, and they’re super judgmental. HELP! I can’t talk about any of my problems with them.
Here we go again. It’s time for me to update this book for the second time. I always said I’d have to update Queen Bees & Wannabes every five years. What I didn’t realize is how fast that time would pass. The baby I rocked to sleep so I could write Queen Bees the first time is now six foot three, and his younger brother is taller than I am. But in spite of all of these changes in my life, one thing has been a constant—helping girls, parents, and any adults who care about girls navigate the messy terrain of “Girl World.”
If you’re parenting or working with girls today, chances are you know about this Queen Bee/Mean Girl stuff already. “Queen Bees” and “Mean Girls” are a part of our language. You can buy “Queen Bee” and “Mean Girl” T‑shirts, backpacks, and pencil cases, as if being one is something girls should aspire to.
But “girl” issues, of course, have been around forever. You may have had a few of your own when you were young, or you could be dealing with them now as an adult. So why do I need to keep updating this book? Because even though it’s true that some things never change—best friends will grow apart, people will be jealous, and betrayals will happen—we need to put these evergreen feelings and experiences in the context of what girls are going through right now. And having said that, each girl is different. Some girls tell at least one parent everything, and some vow that they will never tell a parent or any other adult anything—and they don’t think they need to anyway because they have everything under control. Some girls are obsessed with horses, others with popularity and friendship drama, and others really don’t care. Some girls fit into the common idea we have of what girls look like, and some don’t. Some girls are boy crazy, some are attracted to girls, some question who they are attracted to, and some are questioning if they’re attracted to people at all.
Girls are awesome, brilliant, funny, and inspiring. They are also frustrating, stubborn, messy, and sometimes scary. They will, just like all of us, get into situations that are overwhelming and not know whom to turn to for help. They will get into conflicts with one another. They will experience people refusing to tell them why they’re mad, and they’ll do it, too. They will feel frustrated and confused when someone dismisses them with “Just kidding!” or “Why are you overreacting?!”
No matter how many parenting books you read or seminars you go to, you can’t protect girls from experiencing conflicts and problems with other people. But you can contribute to an environment and a culture for girls that empowers them to articulate their feelings in positive ways. You can educate her about how the culture we live in makes it hard to develop an authentic identity and critical thinking skills but very easy to be a mindless consumer of superficial ideas and desires. You can get a better handle on your own reactions so you can be a thoughtful adult and the source of guidance she needs. You can be a credible, trusted adult. Even if you feel discouraged or disconnected from the girl you are reading this for, or have come to this book as a last resort, always remember it’s never too late to help or repair your relationship with your daughter or any girl you care about.
The first time your daughter tells you that her best friend stopped talking to her and got all the other girls to stop talking to her, too, you may be somewhat upset. You may hate that girl. You may feel that you and your daughter just got recruited into a group that you want no part of but can’t leave. If you can relate to what I’ve just written, please know that so many parents have also had this experience. You aren’t alone, and neither is your daughter.
But you still need to know what to say and do—beyond wanting to yell at that horrible child. You also need to know what to do when you pick your daughter up the next day at school and she’s arm in arm with that evil girl like nothing ever happened. What do you do when your daughter begs you to let this kid come over, ignoring your “Are you kidding me? I hate this girl and you should, too!” expression, because the last thing you want to do is let this girl come over to your house so she can be mean to your daughter all over again.
Most people believe a girl’s task is to get through it, grow up, and put those experiences behind her. But your daughter’s relationships with other girls have deep and far-‐reaching implications beyond her teen years. Her experiences and the thought and behavior patterns she develops as a result fundamentally shape her self-‐identity and relationships. That’s why your daughter’s friendships are a double-‐edged sword. These friendships can be the key to surviving adolescence. Many girls develop into amazing women precisely because they have the support and care of a few good friends.
But I wouldn’t be writing this book and you wouldn’t be reading it if that’s all there was to girls’ friendships. Girls’ friendships are often intense, confusing, frustrating, and humiliating; the joy and security of “best friendships” can be shattered by devastating breakups and betrayals. Beyond the pain in the moment, girls can develop patterns of behavior and expectations for future relationships that stop them from becoming competent and confident women. They can learn to look and say “I’m fine” when they aren’t. They can swallow their feelings because they don’t want to be accused of being overly dramatic or needing attention. They can apologize when they haven’t done anything wrong to placate someone they perceive has more power. They can focus on maintaining impossible standards of beauty and appearance and hate themselves for not being able to keep up—or judge other women in this rigged competition that no one wins.
All of this doesn’t mean that girls’ friendships are destined to be terrible. It just means they’re complicated and need to be taken seriously. My job is to give you my best suggestions for what kind of guidance to give her and how that information should be presented to her. The goal is for her to develop critical thinking skills, manage her emotions, and integrate her feelings with her thoughts . . . and for you to strengthen your relationship with her through the process. I know, that’s a huge goal. It’s not going to be an overnight process, but it’s not an overnight process for anyone.
There’s no way I could write this edition of Queen Bees without addressing how technology and the media continue to expand their influence on your daughter’s social life for better and worse, and how these issues impact younger girls.
On the technology front, I’m not going to waste your time telling you things you already know. We all get that technology is integrated into every aspect of our lives. Learning about what to do about it is our goal. I’m also going to challenge some of the most common advice girls hear from adults, and help you to get girls to tell you how and why they use the kinds of technology they do. I’ll explain what you can learn from your daughter’s social media style. I’ll also tell you what I’ve learned about gaming and girls.
However, I’m not going to ask you to stalk your daughter online. I’m not going to tell you to get monitoring software, because I strongly believe that building a solid relationship with your daughter is more effective than any spying device in helping her behave responsibly online. As soon as a child interacts with technology in any way—including the games she plays when she’s a little girl—we must explicitly tie her use of this incredibly powerful tool to her development of ethics, an authentic self-‐ identity, and a voice within a powerful public space.
There is a chapter dedicated to the topic of younger Mean Girls, and their issues are integrated throughout. There’s never been an age limit on being mean. You can be five or fifty-‐five or ninety-‐five. In addition, we have to consider how girls starting puberty earlier may affect their social development and their friendships. I don’t know about you, but I now regularly see girls in elementary school who have the bodies of young women.
But we can’t freak out about any of this. If we do, we’re going to seriously freak out our girls. We are going to educate ourselves, keep an open mind, and deal. I’ve also seriously revamped the communication chapters of the book. In writing my boys’ book Masterminds and Wingmen, I got great feedback from boys about why their parents’ attempts to talk to them so often backfire and what parents can do and say to communicate effectively. For this edition, I’ve worked with girls to find out what parents should say and do to open up the lines of communication. Sometimes it’s as simple as driving away from the school before asking how her day was.
Before I go any further, let me reassure you that I can help you even if you often feel helpless or as if you are at war with your daughter. This book will let you into her world. To start, it’s perfectly natural if she:
- Repeatedly makes the same mistakes with her relationships
- Believes that there’s no possible way you could understand what she’s going through
- Is absolutely certain that telling you her problems will only make her life worse
- Convinces herself she’s totally in control of her life even when the facts say maybe not
- Lies and sneaks around behind your back
- Denies she lied and snuck behind your back—even in the face of undeniable evidence
On the other hand, it’s natural that you:
- Worry that you won’t be able to provide the advice she needs when she’s been rejected or betrayed . . . or get her to listen to you and actually follow your advice.
- Feel rejected and angry when she rolls her eyes at everything you say
- Wonder whose child this is anyway, as this person in front of you couldn’t possibly be your sweet, wonderful daughter
- Feel confused and defeated when conversations end in fights
- Feel misunderstood when she acts like you’re intruding and prying when you ask about what’s going on in her life
- Are really worried about the influence of her friends and feel powerless to stop her hanging out with them
- Worry about how she can grow up surrounded by toxic messages in the media that are constantly trying to mess with her mind and make her feel insecure.
There’s another issue that complicates everything. In the words of one mom who wrote me:
When I was a senior in high school, my best friend since third grade dumped me and had our entire clique turn their back on me. I was devastated. I found more friends, but the experience left me very insecure in my relationships—something that haunts me to this day (I’m thirty-‐six). The anger and betrayal I felt at the time has never fully left me, despite my fervent desire to leave it behind. In short, she is the person that I would run out of the grocery store to avoid. The most difficult aspect of all this is that I am trying very hard to “check” this baggage as I witness MY daughter’s blossoming best friendship . . . and my deeply wired desire to protect her.
If you’re a mom reading this, it’s important to remember that your experiences as a girl are both your greatest gift and biggest liability as your daughter navigates her own friendships. They’re a gift because they enable you to empathize. They’re a liability if your past makes you so anxious or reactionary that you can’t separate your experiences from hers.
This book isn’t only for moms. Whether you’re worried that you won’t be able to hang out with your daughter in the same way once she enters puberty, or if you’re the dad who emails me knowing all the seventh-‐grade girl drama in her class, you—like almost all dads—want to be emotionally engaged with your children and do best by your daughter.
If you read only one paragraph in this book, make it this: Never forget or dismiss that your perspective can help your daughter. Just because you were never a girl, don’t know what a menstrual cramp feels like, and have never liked talking for hours about other people’s lives doesn’t mean you’re clueless or useless. I know lots of dads feel rejected and pushed aside when their little girl suddenly dismisses them with “You just wouldn’t understand.” But in reality, this is an opportunity for you to become a genuinely cool dad. I don’t mean you let her get away with stuff, side with her against her other parent, or drive her wherever she wants. I’m talking about the dad who patiently waits around until she wants to talk—and then listens without being judgmental, who isn’t afraid to look foolish or show his emotions, who shares the “boy perspective,” who holds her accountable when necessary, and who’s able to communicate his concerns without coming across as controlling and dogmatic.
Even if you’re dying to warn your daughter off every boy who walks through your door, remember that if you come across as the crazy, control-‐freak, doesn’t-‐have-‐a-‐clue father, she’ll stop talking to you. Your job is to show her that relationships with men (of any degree) should be based on mutual respect and care.
BELIEVE IT OR NOT, YOUR DAUGHTER STILL WANTS YOU IN HER LIFE
Your daughter craves privacy, and your very presence feels like an intrusion. You feel you have so much to offer her. After all, you’ve been through the changes she’s experiencing, and you think your advice will help. Although this privacy war is natural, it creates a big problem. Girls often see you as intrusive and prying, which equals bad; her peers are involved and understanding, which equals good. When I ask girls privately what they need most from their parents, they tell me they want their parents to be proud of them. You may be really worried that she’s shutting herself up in her room all day or look at her in the middle of an argument when she’s screaming that she hates you and think there’s no way you can get through to her, but you can and will if you learn to see the world through her eyes.
Parents don’t realize that their children look up to them. When I know that deep in my mother and father’s hearts they really don’t agree with what I’m doing, that really hurts.
I know I should listen to my parents, even if they’re wrong.
Reprinted from QUEEN BEES AND WANNABES: HELPING YOUR DAUGHTER SURVIVE CLIQUES, GOSSIP, BOYS, AND THE NEW REALITIES OF GIRL WORLD Copyright © 2002, 2009, 2016 by Rosalind Wiseman. Published by Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.