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Editor’s blog: Tween girl politics

Last year, when my daughter was in third grade, I began to witness her desperate attempts to “fit in.” She found the group of girls with the social might and worked her way into the group.

On a field trip, I saw how much time and energy she spent making sure she was in the center of the group and not drifting off into the masses – you know, the kids who are happy hanging with whomever. I was exhausted watching her and wondered how much she was learning about recycling and sustainability – the points of the field trip. At that age, there are plenty of kids who don’t know who or what so-called popularity is. I wish my daughter was one of those kids. She isn’t. She is highly tuned into everyone and everything around her.

When your kid is socially on the young side

She is among the youngest kids in her class and she is not as socially mature as some of the other girls whose necks are at her eye level.

This year, I’ve seen her try – and fail – to fit into the “in” group in her classroom. I’ve seen girls walk ahead of her, leaving her walking alone, two steps behind. One friend told her that another girl in this vaulted group said daughter was “annoying.” My husband saw her come out of class crying because this group of girls was going to play and she couldn’t go with them.

Meanwhile, the teacher has expressed concern that our daughter is easily distracted in class, spending transition times jockeying to be with the right girls instead of paying attention to his instructions.

Finally, this week, a mom approached me at the Halloween party to ask how her year was going. I said it’s been kind of rough.

Left out on the bus

She told me what she observed on the last field trip: My daughter was trying so hard to fit in with this group. The three girls sat together on a bus seat. None of them would sit with my daughter, yet they pleasantly informed her she was still their friend. Oh, how nice!

I never heard any of this from my daughter. Apparently, she didn’t cry that time. She found someone else to sit with. Good job! But my heart broke looking at her sweet little face in her Halloween costume and knowing that all these crappy social dynamics are starting to happen. Why do girls have to be so mean?

This stuff really gets my motherly hackles up, and I want to get in these girls’ faces and tell them what I think. Of course, you can’t do that. And my daughter is at an age now where you can’t tell the teacher – unless it’s something really bad. She has to learn how to handle these situations on her own. She has to learn to find friends who are kind to her – and she has to treat other girls with respect and kindness if that’s how she wants to be treated.

Helpful classes

We’re starting a four-class workshop this week through the Girls Leadership Institute, which will focus on the challenges of relationships. Specifically, girls and their parents will “examine more subtle aggression, like “part time friendships,” the silent treatment, talking behind a friend’s back, or pressuring someone to do something she doesn’t want to do.” Sounds perfect.

The girls will also have the opportunity to discuss their own experiences and refine their standards for healthy relationships. I suppose we can all use some help with this! We enrolled in a similar workshop last year and it was great because you actually practiced doing the hard stuff: Confronting a friend with both feet on the ground, making eye contact and telling her how what she did made you feel.

My daughter and I have also enjoyed the American Girl books and magazines dealing with friendships. And I’ve liked what I’ve seen of New Moon Girls magazine, even though we haven’t subscribed.

A while back, I consulted Finessa Ferrell, director of the National Center for School Engagement and an EdNews Parent expert, about this topic. Read a related post. She suggested more resources.

Helpful reading

More help

What about boys?

I’m no expert here, as I don’t have one! But please share your own experiences with tween boys and relationships and resources you’ve found helpful.


About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.