Nothing brings out the mama bear—or papa bear—like finding out that someone’s been mean to your teenager. But how you respond matters when it comes to helping your teenager develop the resilience to deal with difficult peers. Here’s some advice for handling peer problems from clinical social worker Devra Adelstein:
1. Listen and be compassionate.
Oftentimes, our teenagers will tell us about run-ins with peers because they just want to vent. If that’s the case, try to listen, express compassion, and let it pass.
“You can say things like, ‘That’s really mean and I understand why you’re upset ’ or, ‘These things always hurt, ’ ” says Adelstein. “Compassion works better than specific ideas about how to fix the situation. Kids often prefer a good ear instead of a great suggestion.”
2. Encourage problem solving.
If your teenager does want help dealing with a peer problem, help her brainstorm possible ways she can fix the situation on her own. Is there a different friend to hang out with this weekend? Is there another table to sit at in the lunchroom? Is there a new activity where new friends can be made? The key here is helping your teenager learn to self-advocate to solve her own problems with peers or otherwise.
3. Don’t let your own experiences add to the drama.
Most of us struggled socially in middle school or high school, so it’s especially important to separate your own experiences from your teenager’s. “Is your teenager really devastated or is it stirring up your own memories?” asks Adelstein. “It’s hard to keep them separate, but it’s important to try.”
4. It’s okay to talk about your past.
While you don’t want to let your own hard feelings add to the drama of your teenager’s problems with a peer, it can be helpful to talk about your past in a neutral way. “You could say, ‘You are making me think of something from when I was in 10th grade. I’d be glad to share if you want to hear it, ’ ” says Adelstein.