I can remember being a teenager on a luxurious vacation with my family in the Caribbean and caring about nothing more than what I was missing with my friends due to being away from home. In the summertime we would go to Nantucket on our boat and I remember being so angry with my parents that they MADE me go on a summer vacation because it meant I might be missing out on something with my friends at home. What I wouldn’t give now to have those problems!!!
The point is that for most teenagers, nothing is more important than having friends and fitting in. Especially for teenage girls – often their moods are dictated by what is going on with their friends. When they are having successful relationships with their friends they are feeling good and are in good moods. When they are struggling with friendships, feeling “out of the loop” or inadequate – watch out! They will often present with an intense negative mood regardless of what else is going on in their lives.
As most people are aware, teenage girls can be cruel, jealous and quite vicious at times. Relational Aggression is a term which refers to the way in which girls can be mean to one another through low-level bullying, gossiping, ignoring and excluding and through verbal attacks. The result of this relational aggression can be devastating for teenage girls. Being excluded from the lunch table, the weekend outing, the online chat group, etc. can cause teenage girls to feel worthless, alone and extremely insecure.
Teenage girls often judge their value by where they stand in social groups which can cause significant stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Once teenage girls are able to form solid, longer lasting friendships, their reaction to this social pressure decreases. Being in with the most popular group becomes less important as girls get older and as they begin to form solid relationships with a smaller group of friends who they trust and care about as individuals.
As a parent, this can be a very difficult stage to witness. It can be heartbreaking to witness the sadness of your teenage daughter if she is feeling like she does not fit in or if she is on the receiving end of bullying or exclusion. What can be helpful is to know that this is a stage that will usually pass as girls reach their 20’s and into their mid 20’s (sometimes earlier). Parents should not interfere in these friendships (unless there are true safety concerns) since this will likely create further problems for their teenager or result in their teenager resenting them.
A few helpful suggestions for parents who have teenagers experiencing difficulties due to social pressures are:
- Be there to listen to them when they are ready to talk about what is going on with their peers or to talk about how they are feeling.
- You can gently offer suggestions but being too directive or telling them what they should do could result in their shutting down from you.
- Don’t try to minimize what they are reporting or feeling. Don’t say, “things aren’t that bad”, “people DO like you”, etc. If they are telling you it is really bad then that is what it feels like for them so you should validate how they are feeling about the situation.
- You may want to offer them an opportunity to have different exposure to social situations. This may give them an opportunity to have some success with a different peer group while they are trying to sort out the difficulties they are experiencing. For example, if you daughter is having trouble with peers at school you may want to explore finding her other, out of school activities where she can meet a new peer group. A dance class, sports league, YMCA, music classes and art classes are all great places for teens to become involved in group activities with their peers.
As I stated above, witnessing your teenager experiencing difficulties with peers can be very painful to watch. Even with the most connected and loving family, a teenage girl will experience significant distress if she is not feeling connected to a group of friends. The good news is that this phase will inevitably pass and generally girls are able to form solid, trustworthy social networks as they move into adulthood.
For more information related to Parent Teenagers, go to www.HowToParentATeen.com where you can access our audio program designed specifically for parents of teenagers.