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Friendships, Cliques and Mean Girls, Insights from My Daughter Who Has Been There

Middle school and high school can be filled with friendship challenges, cliques, and dealing with mean girls. This is an awesome interview/chat I had with my daughter Lily about how to help our girls navigate this complicated world of friendships, drama, and conflict.

The wisdom Lily shares from her own experiences in middle school and high school are so helpful and just want our girls need to hear!

Lily shares with us how to navigate being left out, what it means to be a good friend, how to navigate conflict, and what your daughter can say and do when she’s struggling with a friendship and more.

Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed, if you don’t have time.

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And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you’re failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well, and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our family and to impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and to become more of the mom and the woman that you want to be welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

SHERYL: Hello everyone. I’m so glad that you’re here. My daughter Lily is joining us today, and I am so excited to have her here. Thank you, Lily, for agreeing to come on here. I know I love having her on here because she has so much wisdom to share.

We are going to be talking about today, friendships, cliques Mean Girls, how do you help your daughter navigate that. I think this will be helpful for your daughters to get some perspective based on Lily’s experience. I just want to launch in and say thank you.

So tell the moms and girls a little bit about yourself.

LILY: Yeah, so I’m 21 years old and a junior going to be senior in college. I lived through it all through middle school and high school. I made many friends through the years, lost friends, and have kept a lot of friendships from middle school and high school. So I’m excited to be able to share with you all and answer some questions. 

SHERYL: Yes, we’re hopefully going to get through them and get to learn a little bit about how to navigate friendships. I’ll be able to interject in my experience with helping Lily navigate friendships and her older sister. There’s a nine-year gap between Lily and her older sister.

I grew a lot in those nine years. I handled it very differently, so I have a unique perspective of what not to do and what you can do as a mom to help your daughter navigate this rocky terrain in middle school and high school. So I’m going to launch in and ask some questions. As Lily mentioned, moms had submitted questions in our communities I put out there. So we’re going to dig in. 

Can you share a bit about your struggle with friendships growing up? 

LILY: Yes, let’s start in middle school. I went to a private Christian school until seventh grade, so I was with just the same group of girls that I grew up with when I was in kindergarten. I became friends with every single girl at some point and would cycle through friendships. I kind of did that throughout middle school. In those years, there were many clicks, and I knew at a young age that I don’t like clicks. I don’t like being controlled and have some girl that’s kind of ruling over me. 

I was involved in clickiness in my friend groups. She was the queen bee and wanted everyone to answer to her. If she didn’t like someone, then she would tell all of us to exclude her. It happens a lot, and it happened to me. 

I was also excluded. I don’t remember a lot of it, but there were times I would get picked up from school, and I would be crying and upset about it.

SHERYL: When we were preparing for this, I shared some specific situations that I remember, and she couldn’t remember them. It’s interesting to me because I still remember that. I think it speaks to when our daughters are in pain. When they’re expressing, our mama bear comes out. 

It can stir up a lot of our pain from our childhood. It could be when we were bullied and navigating that whole girl world, so I had a lot of stuff coming up for me when she shared what was happening to her. 

We need to become aware of that so that we’re not reacting out of that place. That was one thing that I learned in that nine-year gap between your sister in middle school and getting bullied or left out of groups. 

When I was parenting you, I just want moms to know girls don’t remember it as much if we aren’t overreactive. 

LILY: Yeah, I remember mean comments that girls said really stuck with me growing up when I struggled with learning. 

I remember feeling lesser than because of that. I don’t always remember the words, but I remember my feelings in certain bullying situations. 

I remember not knowing where a certain country was or something and people laughing. That was really embarrassing. 

SHERYL: Yes, definitely. Back to the question, you were saying that day, I picked you up from school, and you were crying, and you didn’t remember it. 

You were talking about these two girls that had left you out of the group. They were mad at you, and they weren’t talking to you.

I remember saying, “Wow, that must really hurt,” and you’re like, “Yes.” Then, you expressed a lot more, and I said, “What did you do? That must have been hard to know what to do.” After, I just listened and affirmed your hurt. 

You were like, “Oh, can we stop at McDonald’s on the way home or whatever it was.” 

We stopped, and it didn’t get mentioned again. I was still sitting with it like, oh my gosh, I want to go to the school and get a hold of those girls. 

The next day, I picked you up at school, and you got back on that you got in the car, and you’re like, “Oh, we worked it out. We’re friends again. They talked to me, and I realized I wasn’t very nice to them and that they were mad at me. And so we resolved it, and everything’s out there.” So you worked it out. 

Rewind to your sister. I remember saying what’s not helpful to say. She got in the car, and she was crying. 

I told her, “Well, what did you do that caused that?” I blamed her and tried to get her to think of maybe what she had done. 

This shut down the whole conversation. She felt like something was wrong with her or did something wrong, versus just helping her process through what happened. 

I catastrophized it — I made it bigger than it needed to be. She also saw herself more as a victim, which wasn’t helpful. 

What advice would you give to a girl who is struggling to make friends? 

LILY: Yeah, going back to the first question, I talked a little bit about middle school and what my friendships were like in middle school. 

I transferred my eighth-grade year to a public school because none of my friends from my other school were going to the high school. 

So I had to start fresh and make new friends. It was hard because there were so many different groups, and they were already formed. 

SHERYL: If a girl is struggling to make friends, what advice would you give them?

LILY: I would say to find what you love to do. 

It could be acting, it could be playing a certain sport, it could be art, whatever it may be, find that, and then once you get involved in whatever it is that you want to get involved in, you’ll find like-minded people that way. 

Second, you can make friends by just being really nice. I think just encouraging her daughter if she’s struggling to make friendships to recommend being open and present, so not scrolling through your phone all the time. 

SHERYL: You have a story about what it was like for you when you went into the new school, and you went into the lunchroom.

Can you share your process of finding where to sit and find a friend group? 

LILY: Yeah, I think I first started sitting with a girl that was in my homeroom. I sat with them for a few weeks. 

I made other friends outside of that friend group. But I was solely sitting with them because she was a girl from my homeroom, and I knew her the most. 

But I realized I didn’t really want to be in the friend group. 

Once I started to get to know them a little bit, not that they were bad or anything, I just didn’t fit with them. So while I was sitting with them, I kind of started making new friends and asking myself if there were other girls I would connect more with.

So I made friends within all the different friend groups. I didn’t want to just be in one friend group.

That is one piece of advice I have for girls. You don’t have to be friends with just the girls in your friend group. I think it is healthy and fun to be friends with all types of girls. I think that’s important because it makes you like a real, well-rounded human being if you can find different types of people yet find similarities. 

You don’t have to have this perfect friend. You can make friends with a bunch of different people, and they don’t have to be exactly like you. 

SHERYL: Yeah, you were saying how it’s important to take you time to make friends. 

Your sister said that if she could go back to middle school, she would have taken more time to pick her friends thoughtfully rather than just jumping into a group because she felt insecure. 

LILY: Yeah, for sure. I think also developing friendships over time. Even starting in middle school, when I went to the public middle school, I made friends with different friend groups. It’s funny because we all became a friend group in high school because looking back, all of the girls I made friends with. Before, they were in different friend groups, so it really changes.

You go into high school and realize that friend groups change. I mean, some girls have been friends since middle school and are still in the friend group. But I think we should focus more on individual friendships and not think too much about the friend group itself. 

SHERYL: It might be a good thing as a mom to tell our daughters when they’re in middle school that friendships take time

You could say, “It’s okay that you haven’t found your friend group right now that. Just know that this is going to be a process and take your time to get to know different girls.” 

When you moved to another lunch table, the girls were mad at you. 

How did you navigate that? 

LILY: I remember talking to Ella, a friend of mine. And I was like, “I don’t really like what I’m sitting with these girls.” I just was honest with her. I was like, “I don’t think I get along with all of them. I would love to sit with you guys.” I mean, she even offered it. 

SHERYL: Oh, that’s so cool. One of the things you said to me, as we talked about this, is for girls not to take it personally. You spoke of the victim mindset, like not seeing it as something’s wrong with them. 

Because I remember thinking that something was wrong with me if girls didn’t ask me to hang out me or something must be wrong with me. I thought I must be weird and end up feeling sorry for myself. I think that led me not making friendships in middle school because I felt like something was wrong with me. 

The girls were mean to me, and I would make that group of girls bad. So can you talk about how to stay out of that? 

How to stay out with the victim mindset?

LILY: When girls leave you out or say you can’t sit with us, rather than saying, “Wow, they’re leaving me out and being mean,” to say, “I don’t want to be friends with them because they’re not inclusive.” 

You have to have a balance between not being a victim and not being like, 

“Oh, it’s all her fault.” You can look at it like we don’t get along together as friends. You know, it’s a two-way street, like in a relationship. You break up with them, and it’s a mutual decision. 

We just didn’t really get along well, and it wasn’t healthy. And that’s okay; there are more people out there. That’s a closed door. 

That opens a new door to a new friendship. I think when you get in that mentality of there’s something’s wrong with me. You can say “Okay, what can I do? 

How can I be a good friend? What does being a good friend look like and fill in the blank and be that. If you are getting down on yourself, you can get stuck in that it’s all my fault and the negatives. 

But we can turn the negatives into positives by leaning into working on growing character.  

SHERYL: That’s very empowering and I love it. We can’t

change other people, even though we want to, the only thing that we are in control of is ourselves. So when we are in that victim mentality, we can only change ourselves.

So next question: How can girls stay out of drama and gossip? 

LILY: That’s hard. I mean, we all fall into drama and gossip. I mean we all watch The Bachelor and maybe Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We love drama. We love gossip. So that’s a good question. Because with drama and gossip, nothing good ever comes from it.

SHERYL:  It’s like eating junk, like eating a bag of Doritos or something. Well, I shouldn’t say junk food because we’re not going to make foods bad. I learned from Charlotte Marquis and the podcast that it tastes good going down, but then you don’t feel very good afterward. 

LILY: Yes, so my advice for staying out of drama is checking your intentions behind gossiping.

So asking the question, am I sharing this information to make myself feel better? Do I want to take down that other person and get them back?

Or am I doing it to process my feelings and talk about how I have been affected, not how the person affects me. 

Another thing is, would I want the other person to hear it if they were in the room? Because if I can’t say it in front of the person, I probably should be saying it. 

SHERYL: This is where I want to recommend the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It’s an excellent read for yourself and to share with your girls. 

One of the things that struck me reading the book is that girls don’t know how to deal with conflict. We have to learn how to do this even as adults. 

We gossip and create drama because we don’t want to go to the person and share how we’re upset about something directly. So, we gossip behind their back because we’re hurt, or we’re angry. We want to make them bad. 

Dealing with conflict is really important for us to teach to our girls and to model. If we’re talking behind a friend’s back or making somebody bad, our girls are going to pick that up. 

So what do we do with that energy? 

Can you think of a situation where you’ve had a conflict with a friend even older and how you handled that?

LILY: For me, I’ve definitely improved over the years. I try not to gossip. If I gossip, I try and check my intentions behind it. 

If something’s going on with a friend and I go to another person, 

I’m asking how they think I should handle it or phrase what I’m going to say to that other person. 

But in high school, I got in a really big blowout fight with one of my best friends. That was just really difficult because we were attached to the hip. I talked behind her back and stuff and told her on text I didn’t want to be friends anymore.  

It was a friendship breakup. Now looking back, if I were to redo it, I would have said, “Hey, can we just take some time to talk after school because I have a few things that I just want to get off my chest.” Instead of saying, this is everything that you’ve done to me. We can approach by saying, “I don’t want to lose this friendship. So I want to see how we can fix these issues that we’ve been having.” Then, we listen to their side and try and respect it. 

SHERYL: Well, gosh, that is so good. I think to encourage our girls to not communicate over text.  

LILY: Yeah, I had to pick the time. That’s another thing — timing is really important. You don’t do it while you’re in the lunchroom with a bunch of girls around. You say let’s pick a time and chat.

Because I know so many girls will screenshot these tags and say, Oh, she said this to me and get other people involved. But when you meet in person, you can keep people out of it and avoid miscommunication. 

It’s also more intentional and thoughtful when you do it in person. 

If your daughter’s asking how do I handle this, suggest asking her friend to meet in person or over the phone.  

SHERYL: It’s important if your daughter’s open with you to be able to roleplay it a little bit. Well, what can you say? How can I take care of myself? How can you take care of yourself and start with the “I feel because” and not the “you,you,you, which puts the other person on the defense.” 

What would you do if your friend pulls away and tries to become friends with a mean clicker group? I hear that a lot from moms — all of a sudden, a friend goes to another group and leaves the girl behind it. She’s just so hurt and can’t figure out what happened. What would you tell that girl?

LILY: That’s a really good question. I would say that’s hard. It’s going to take processing. I think she could ask her friends and say, “Hey, I noticed that, you know, you haven’t been texting or reaching out to me as much and say, “Hey I miss you. We haven’t talked in a while and I just want to see how your doing?” Or maybe even check an assumption and say you have noticed that they haven’t reached out as much. 

Sometimes if a friend walks out of your life, it is super hard but it opens the door to other friendships. When I had that friendship breakup, I was able to make so many new friends that I still have to this day. I needed to separate from her because our friendship was not healthy for me. It grew me for the better. 

I think timing can be strange sometimes. In many of my , we’ve gone through periods where we haven’t really talked. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve done anything wrong. It’s just kind of like we’re at a different stage. And then, something happens, and they get a boyfriend or something. And then I’m like, Oh, I should reach out to them. I’ll say, “I saw you are doing X, Y, X, and I’m so happy for you.” Then, we reconnect again. 

It’s crazy how that happens. My best advice is not to take it personally and process your friend distancing from you. Then, take time to reach out to new friends. 

There’s so many amazing people that you haven’t met yet.

SHERYL: When they’re crying and hurt, we want to fix that because it’s really difficult to watch that happening. But we should meet them where they’re at. We can say, “I can see this is hard. I’m sorry. I’m here for you.

It does take some time. We don’t want to dismiss it. Often, we want to hurry up the healing process. 

Sandra asked, “What’s the best way to tell my daughter how to deal with a bully?

LILY: I would say that girls are mostly mean to their friends. It’s not usually going to be someone you are not friends with. From my experience, it is someone that is throwing digs. Often, girls throw digs at their friends because they’re secretly mad at them or have had a bad day. I know that happened to me a lot, especially in high school.

I had many friends who would make comments about me being like a dumb blonde, which has stuck with me throughout my entire life of proving myself. When that would happen, I would laugh. 

 But now I would say how to handle it is say, “Why do you say that? What made you say that to me?”

 Because, I mean, if someone asked me that, I would not know how to respond. 

SHERYL: That’s like batting the ball back. I love that analogy. You don’t have to take that and sit with it and laugh because you’re embarrassed. That’s different asking that. It’s asking a question versus saying, you know, like, what the heck.

LILY: Or saying, “Are you good? Like, are you feeling okay?”

SHERYL: What qualities does a good friend possess? How can moms support their daughters to discern if their friends are good friends or not? 

LILY: Good one. I think it’s important to be a good listener. It is really good to be a friend that anyone wants to go to and be that safe space for them. You don’t have to talk over them or rule the conversation, but a friend will ask good and intentional questions. 

For example, asking them, “What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite movie? What music do you like to listen to?” 

Once you get those answers, you can bring them their favorite snack or saying, oh, let’s watch your favorite movie tonight, or let’s do this activity that you love to do because I want to be able to love it as well. 

SHERYL: Yeah, that was very sweet. One question I have from the chat is, do you think a good friend will gossip about you?

LILY: I mean, I don’t think a “good friend” should be gossiping about you.  

No one wants a friend that talks poorly about them behind her back. I wouldn’t say what makes the person a bad person. 

I wouldn’t label them like that, but I think that you don’t want a friend who will negatively talk about because if they’re doing that, how will you rely on them to keep secrets or confidential information.

You want a friend that you can confide in and be in a safe space. How are you supposed to be able to share those parts of yourself with them if you can’t trust them? 

Because once someone gossips about you, trust is lost. 

I mean, at least for me, I’m an eight on the enneagram if you know what that is. So, I am big on loyalty. If my friend is talking poorly behind my back, I will address it and ask if they are upset about coming to me first. For example, I would say, “I have heard that you’re upset with me about this certain thing. I would have loved if you had come to me first next time when you’re upset.”

It can be awkward, but I would love it if you would just tell me to correct that or care for you in a better way. 

SHERYL: That is awesome. What happens if you don’t want to throw someone under the bus for sharing that your friend was talking behind your back?

LILY: I would say, “I’ve just noticed that you haven’t been treating me a little differently. Did I do anything that hurt your feelings?” So, you are kind of checking an assumption. 

SHERYL: Okay, perfect. I want to interject on one thing. When you were saying that, I was thinking it’s a pattern. If your friend maybe here’s something the first time you go to them, you work it through? 

That’s one thing. But if it’s continually happening, then you know, this is not a good friend. 

So yes, it’s where you can go to that person, you can really talk to them, and they’re going to listen, and you’re going to work through. Yeah, that’s good. 

To summarize that, I would say a good listener, someone who’s intentional and a safe space. 

SHERYL: That’s so good. Well, two more questions. 

What would you say that is going to be helpful? And what would you say is not helpful? If a girl is struggling to make friends, how should moms handle this with their daughters?

LILY: I would comfort your daughter and reassure her that she will meet so many people in her life. 

Many people will come in and out of her life. They will shape her into who she’s meant to be. So trust the process. 

I would also not look at her other friends and kind of say, “Oh, this girl is a mean person. You’re so much better off without her.” 

Instead, you can focus on your daughter’s character and what defines who she is. 

For example, you can tell her how amazing of a women she is and how proud you are of her for verbalizing her upset. We cannot control how people treat us, but we can control how we respond. 

SHERYL: Wow, that’s really helpful to moms. Don’t try to jump in there and get on the phone and fix it all. 

Lastly, to the girl who might be listening to this with her mom, what encouragement would you want to give her if she struggles with friendships. 

LILY: Again, trust the process. There’s such a beauty in friendships. Why stay in a friendship where they are tearing you down. Friendship is not about that. We have many amazing chances in our lifetime to meet friends and to develop friendships. 

It’s awful to feel like you’re stuck in a friendship. So if you’re in an unhealthy friendship right now, let yourself step out and find people who encourage, love, and care for you. 

Also, there are so many people that want to be your friend. Everyone wants a friend. 

So focus on just the qualities that I’ve said, just being a good listener, being intentional and smiling, asking good questions, and you will find that friend that makes you have the time of your life. A friend that you can laugh with for an hour. 

So don’t close yourself off. Believe and trust that there are good friends out there for you. 

SHERYL: Well, thank you, Lily, wasn’t she awesome? You’re so wise, and I’m so proud of you. It’s beneficial to moms and the girls listening who are trying to navigate these years. It can be challenging and tricky with friendships. So thank you so much. 

Thank you, everyone, for listening and for spending this time with us!

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