The new school year dust is finally beginning to settle and families are adjusting to their routines: rising early to catch the bus, making sure lunch boxes and backpacks are ready the night before (or part of the early morning scramble!), figuring out the logistics of after-school practices and activities, and strategizing on how to stay on top of homework, reports, projects and oh—yes—tween and teen friendship drama!
If you’ve got adolescent children in your midst, particularly girls, you’ve most likely experienced the emotional roller coaster that accompanies this somewhat turbulent time in their development. You’ll witness overly dramatic reactions to seemingly minor events whether it be the heart-wrenching spreading of gossip or starting trouble on social media, or perhaps you have a child with an on-again, off-again teen romance. Whatever the case may be for the crisis or drama, the constant turmoil can be frustrating and leave parents feeling totally helpless.
As the parent of eight, most of whom are teens or now in their early twenties, I have witnessed decades of drama. Interestingly, I've noticed it’s gotten much more pronounced with my youngest two (a tween and young teen) than it was when my oldest few were in the trenches of junior and high school. Here are 8 effective strategies to deal with all the teen drama.
8 Ways to Deal with Teen Drama
- Be calm
- Listen up
- Encourage a wide network of friends
- Advocate for self-respect
- Discourage the social media war
- Discourage the victim role
- Identify helpful resources
- Promote the golden rule
Let's explain each strategy a bit more thoroughly.
Strategy #1: Be Calm
As a parent, when we see one of our kids experiencing emotional hurt, our instincts are to want to fix the situation immediately so they won’t have to suffer any longer than necessary. My 12-year old daughter has had a rough start to her 6th-grade year in middle school because some of her friendships have taken an unexpected trip down drama lane. It’s very difficult to watch from the sidelines and not get riled up when you see your once happy-go-lucky child down in the dumps over circumstances that seem unfair and, quite frankly, plain old mean!
I must admit one of my first reactions was to want to join in and get upset right along with her, but I realized that that would only add fuel to the fire. In How to End Teen Girl Drama psychologist Laura Kastner, co-author of Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens recommends staying calm and asking your daughter to do the same. “When your teen reports drama that has hurt her feelings or made her feel ostracized by her friends, it's tempting to get upset or join forces with your teen to become dramatic, but that won't help the situation. One of the benefits that your daughter gets from drama is your attention. Ensure that you give her positive attention by using the complaint as a catalyst for communication, rather than reinforcing the drama.”
Strategy #2: Listen Up
One of the most important, yet seemingly difficult, things we can do for our children is to be attentive listeners. With so many distractions in our busy lives—cell phones that are on 24/7, work commitments, homework and sports practices, play dates, pet responsibilities, grocery shopping—we tend to multi-task our way through the day, often neglecting any quiet time to listen to our loved ones.
Becoming a good listener when your child wants to share something is key to fostering understanding and trust, yet many times we listen half-heartedly without even realizing it because we are simply in the habit of being too busy.
It’s completely normal to want to fix whatever’s wrong in your child’s life, especially if it's making the child sad, frustrated, or afraid. Kids need to have their feelings validated, not swept under the carpet. If your daughter's boyfriend has just broken up with her, don’t rush to say something like, “You’re better off without him, you’ll find someone much better.” Listen to her as she shares her pain and let her know you understand: “It never feels good to have someone say they don’t want to spend time with us. It’s OK to feel sad about this right now." You don’t want to encourage wallowing in self-pity, but let her have a chance to share and then process her feelings, and once that’s happened you can jump in and try to cheer her up.
Strategy #3: Encourage a Wide Network of Friends
One of the simplest, yet most powerful prevention strategies for helping kids cope with friendship challenges is to encourage them to cast a wide net which will help them seek out friendships both in their neighborhood, at school, on a team, and through a club, a church youth group, or co-workers.
Tara Reddington, school psychologist and owner of G6 Family Coaching in Rhode Island (as well as mother of five) notes that lots of times girls throw out bait to "test" their relationships, and that this type of behavior is unhealthy and hurtful. “Remind girls that it's OK to have lots of friends and they don't have to hide it when they hang out with one group, for fear that the other group may get mad at them. There is a lot of game playing with girls. That's where boys can take the lead in teaching their female counterparts. Boys will hang out with anyone and often the first available. They don't care who knows or who finds out. There is no hidden agenda and no paranoia involved.”
Strategy #4: Advocate for Self-Respect
Most times, teen friendships that are tested by various dramatic situations—gossip, intentionally leaving a friend out of a party invitation, stealing a boyfriend—are eventually repaired and life goes on.
There will be, however, occasions when the friendship cannot withstand the hurt and bad feelings, and those involved will part ways and the friendship will end. If that happens, encourage your teen to do so with respect for both herself and the person she is ending the relationship with.
In 4 Steps to Help Your Daughter Deal with Middle School Drama, a helpful mantra is recommended for tweens and teens: create distance with dignity. “No matter what your daughter’s friends are doing—how cold or exclusive they have become—encourage her to avoid ugly wars of words. Remind her not to use fake apologies or justify unkindness with “just kidding.” Discourage her from talking badly about the former friends to others. In fact, teach your child not to put much energy into the broken friendship at all. Appreciate it for what it once was, but shift her focus to all that is going right in her life—to the friendships and activities that help her feel good about herself.”