Does your teen struggle with “mean teens”?   Do the unkind words of others remain in your tween’s mind?  Sometimes, self-esteem can be eroded by other students.  Help your adolescent cope with the negativity using the following strategies!

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  1. I realize we should not label children as “mean teens (or tweens),” but it works better with the title.  Please forgive me!
  2. This article provides general coping skills.  Bullying requires help beyond the scope of this article!
  3. If your teen or tween shows signs of depression, do not wait to seek professional help!
  4. I am the parent of girls.  So, my research for this particular article is mostly bent towards girls.  A great resource for a parent of boys is *Masterminds and Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman.  I do explain Wiseman’s SEAL strategy for boys to solve problems below. I also recommend her book *Queen Bees and Wannabes for parents of girls.


Parent Pep Talk:  How to Cope with “Mean Teens”

I am generally easy-going and slow to anger. However, when I hear a tale of a child who is mean to my tween or teen, I become an angry mama bear!  Or, a protective mama alligator!  Or, a vicious, striking viper!  Pick your analogy.

My chest bows up.  Then, my blood pressure increases as my body heats up and my mind focuses on attacking the other child.  I am in full-on MMA fighter mode.  And then, I breathe.

I *know* that I should empower our daughters to handle the trouble themselves.  I *know* that I should ask questions to draw out our girls’ ideas on what they should do in the situation.  I *know* that we should pray for the other adolescent.  I *know* that our daughters may not be completely innocent because I don’t have all of the information.

Parents, do you ever feel this way?

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that your adolescent will only have one incidence with “mean teens/tweens.”  Parents, please have multiple, short conversations to help build the skills to cope with teens or tweens who try to tear your child down.  More coping skills lead to more resilience!

More coping skills lead to more resilience in teens and tweens. Click To Tweet

What weapons do mean teens or tweens use?

According to Wiseman, the main weapons used by adolescents are teasing and gossip.  The ultimate goal is to gain attention and power.  These mean teens/tweens put down the other student so that they stay on a higher social level.

Weapon 1:  Teasing

Typically, there are three types of teasing that occur:

1.  Good Teasing  

Everyone is still respected.  The intent is not to be malicious.  You may have heard the quote, “You only tease the ones you love.”  Perhaps it should say, “You only playfully tease the ones you love.”

Our family loves to tease each other about funny made-up words that we accidentally, *supposedly* said such as “araunchion” or “shcwabba.”  We deny saying these words, even though “eyewitnesses” heard us.  Now, it is simply a running joke.  However, if one of us asked another to stop, we would stop the teasing.

2. Unintentional Bad Teasing

In this case, the teasing may be insensitive, but it is not spiteful.  Usually, the adolescent is not cognizant of the hurt he inflicted.

Our daughter struggled in middle school with a girl who continually grabbed her lunchbox or water bottle. Sometimes, she would even hold on to it until lunchtime.  When our daughter confronted her, the girl softly whispered, “I’m sorry.”  We don’t think she realized her behavior was irritating.  Perhaps she was just trying to be playful in a misguided way?

3.  Bad Teasing

Here, the teasing is intended to put down or humiliate another person.  The point is to make the target feel inferior.

Often times, teens/tweens are afraid to confront the situation because it will make things worse.  More teasing may ensue, “You need to learn how to take a joke.”  Or, feelings may be dismissed, “You’re making this out to be a big deal.”  And, revenge may be taken.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how to deal with this other than to be prepared for the possibilities. This includes being prepared to seek help if warranted.  I know that I do NOT want our daughters to learn “to be silent in the face of intimidation” as Wiseman describes.  Parents, what have you learned in these situations?  Please scroll waaaay down and let us know in the comments!

Weapon 2:  Gossip

As much as we preach against gossiping to our adolescents, it still happens.  Why?  Because gossip is “social currency” to many students.  Gossip is especially humiliating to the self-centered nature of teens/tweens because it seems like “everyone knows” of their failures.  This erodes self-esteem that is built upon an adolescent’s perceived image.  Please help your teen/tween develop self-esteem the RIGHT way!

Help your teen or tween Cope with Mean People

7 Tips to Help Your Child Cope with Mean Teens/Tweens

Part One:  What Your Adolescent Can Do

Your teen/tween needs to develop the life skills to deal with problems herself.  This will serve her well as she grows in confidence and competence when dealing with difficult people.  Yet, your adolescent probably has not fully developed her conflict resolution skills.

Parents, we need to coach and support our students.  Then, we must stand back and let them follow through on their own!  However, be prepared to step in, especially if physical or mental safety is a concern.

Consider teaching your child to:

1. Create boundaries.

Our teens and tweens need to be assertive when they are treated disrespectfully.  It takes practice!  One word of caution:  to be assertive does not mean aggressive behavior.  This skill requires creating boundaries.

Boundaries are so important, but they can be difficult, especially if a child is shy or a conflict avoider!  Teenagers and tweens can develop boundaries (and a good dose of self-discipline) when they:

Speak Up:

Develop your teen's ability to confront others from a strong position on his/her own terms. Click To Tweet

Your adolescent should be respectful, but firm.  And then, walk away on her own terms.  Regardless of the outcome, your child develops the ability to confront others from a strong position.

1. In Queen Bees and Wanna Bees, Wiseman recommends keeping a record of the incidents of teasing or gossip.

She suggests recording dates, places, exact words that were used, witnesses, and your adolescent’s feelings and response.

As a teacher who documented student behavior, I whole-heartedly agree!  First, it helps to organize one’s thoughts in preparation for a confrontation.  Second, documentation also provides a record of behaviors and responses, should it ever be needed!  Please keep in mind:  it is always better to record this information while the incident is fresh in your adolescent’s mind.

2. Brainstorm with your teen/tween how to word her request for the teasing/gossip to stop.

This includes describing the behavior and asking for the behavior to stop.

3.  Confront the mean teen/tween in a safe, neutral space.

Coach your child not to do this in front of other friends!  And, she should be prepared that the mean teen/tween may not actually apologize. The other child might even blame someone else so as not to lose face.  However, in the end, your adolescent may find that the behavior stops when she shows her strength.

In Masterminds and Wingmen, Wiseman lays out the SEAL strategy for solving problems:

SStop and Set Up:  Determine the best time to have a one-on-one conversation with the mean teen/tween.  For boys, the best time may be while doing something else.  This way, the conversation does not feel as intense.

Explain:  Your child should explain what he did not like and wants to happen (or not happen) in the future.

Affirm and Acknowledge:  Your son has a right to be treated well.  But, he must also acknowledge what he may have done to contribute to the problem.

LLock-In:  Continue the friendship on specified terms.

4.  Seek help from a teacher.

This step could be tricky.  The teacher should be trustworthy and a good listener.  Your adolescent should explain the situation and her need for anonymity.   Then, the teacher and student should brainstorm and agree on a plan of action.  Once this plan takes place, the action and the response should be recorded on the incidence sheet.

Our Experience

Although at times I have to actually coach our daughters with the words to say, they are learning to speak up.  When another girl hurt her feelings, our oldest daughter told her, “That is not kind.  Friends build each other up.”  Sometimes kindness requires speaking the truth in love.  For more conflict resolution strategies, check out this post:  Sibling Conflict.

Sometimes, our daughters do not handle the issue *quite* the way I suggest.  Even so, our girls confront the mean teens/tweens in order to resolve the problem. And, in my book, that is a huge step!

Don’t allow themselves to be pulled down by another:

Discuss how the only thing he can control is his actions.  He cannot control someone else’s response or actions.  He can take the higher road by ignoring the remarks or replying in an assertive manner that remains respectful.

In fact, the hurtful words are more of a reflection of the other child, than your teen/tween.  His words reveal his heart.  Luke 6:45b reminds us, “What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

Don’t allow someone else’s words to infect their minds:

When another adolescent says something unkind, we ask, “Is it true?”  This may seem like an insensitive parenting strategy, but maybe changes are needed.

However, if it is not true, we ask,”How do we know it is not true?”  This strategy allows our girls to fight negative words with evidence of the truth about who they are!

Help your teens fight negative words with evidence of the truth about who they are! Click To Tweet

Move on:

Occasionally, there are times that our teens/tweens need to move on to a healthier friendship.  Perhaps the adolescents will become friends again in the future.  Maybe not.  Letting go of a friendship is particularly difficult, and you may find your child resisting the idea.

The Man and I find it helpful to ask, “How does a good friend act?”  Then, we ask if the other child is acting like a good friend. Sometimes we have to go so far as to say: “What do you want out of this friendship?”  Finally, we suggest creating their own fun with friends who build others up!

2. Ask, “Why?”

Literally, teach your teen/tween to ask the adolescent who is acting unkindly “Why?” or “Why do you feel the need to put others down?

Sometimes, this question disarms the other teen/tween.  The student may not realize why he does what he does.  It may cause the other child to reflect, even if he initially acts worse.  Perhaps he is

  • Seeking attention because he lacks it at home?
  • Hurting?  Something else may be going on at home.
  • Insecure?
  • Having a bad day?

Of course, it may not change the behavior of the other child at all.  But, once again your adolescent can practice walking away on his own terms and develop the ability to stand up to another from a position of strength.

3.  Develop empathy in your teen/tween. Encourage forgiveness.

Parents, don’t be afraid to be open about why people do what they do!  Sometimes, an adolescent who strikes out at another is simply having a bad day and does not know how to cope with it. Other times, the child may be putting peers down to feel better about himself/herself.

Empathy can help us understand someone else’s behavior.  *Unselfie, by Michelle Borba, has great tips for teaching empathy. You can read my review of Unselfie here.

Our daughters are more resilient when they feel empathy for the person who hurts them.  We talk about what might be happening in that adolescent’s life that would cause this behavior.  One time, our oldest daughter recognized that a girl who acted unkindly towards her was “going through a lot at home.”  And, this understanding made it easier for our daughter to forgive the girl.

Christ tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Sometimes it is difficult, but we pray for the other teen/tween involved.  We create empathy as we pray for her needs and how our girls can respond.

4. Sow kindness.

No matter what, help your teen/tween respond with kindness!  She can rise above by seeing the other person through God’s eyes and recognizing that everyone has value.  Part of kindness is building others up.

We encourage our daughters to “keep it classy.”  This goes for how they act (as well as what they wear!).  Part of being classy is not lowering themselves to the level of the other child.  Our girls are supposed to ask, “How can I act classy in this situation?”  The answer is always to act with kindness even if the words/actions are different.

It helps that we know some classy ladies in our church family who are excellent role models.  So, the word “classy” is meaningful to our girls.  Your family may need to brainstorm another “key” word that is powerful for you.

Part Two:  What Parents Can Do

5.  Fill her emotional love tank.

A teen or tween who feels loved is more secure and resilient.  Dr. Gary Chapman identifies *5 Love Languages in his series of books:

  • Physical Touch
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Gifts
  • Acts of Service

A teen or tween who feels loved is more secure and resilient. Click To Tweet  

Adolescents need to be shown love in all 5 love languages.  However, they usually have one or two dominant love languages.  It is especially important to show love to your child in these areas.

One daughter has Words of Affirmation as a dominant love language.  We have to be careful to keep the right “compliment to constructive criticism ratio!”  Additionally, she is sensitive to the words of others.  So, we praise her character to help her remember who she is when other people are negative! 

6.  Teach Your Teen/Tween that Media Images are FALSE.

One of the hardest things that for me to handle is when another child makes a comment on my adolescent’s appearance.  Although we focus so much on building character, our daughters are especially sensitive about their appearance.  Perhaps this is part of being human?

We can see the beauty of our children because we know them so well.  However, the culture judges them on initial impressions which are outward focused.  And, false media images are considered the “ideal.”

I’m still learning to teach our daughters about true beauty as we battle “idealized” images.  In the comments below, please share anything that you find helpful in this area!

This video about photoshopping was an eye-opener for our daughters.  They knew magazine pictures were photoshopped, but I don’t think that they understood to what extent.  And, the video is a good reminder that models have professional hair and makeup artists. Please note:  there is some skin shown, so you may wish to preview this video.

Additionally, the images their friends post on social media may not be true either.  They may be staged.  Light, angles, and filters all affect the way someone “appears.”

7. Create a village.

Hopefully, every family has a village of supportive people.  These people may be family members, friends who are like family, or a church family.  It is important that members of this village are healthy themselves.  They may make mistakes, but they own up to them and use the mistakes to guide others.

Our daughters are surrounded by other adults, older teens, and a few young adults who speak life and truth into them.  And, our girls seem to internalize the wisdom of other people more than parental wisdom. We are so grateful for our village!

Final Thoughts

Parents, it is so important for your tween/teen to develop the skills to stand up for himself/herself!  As much as we may want to “fix” things, our adolescents build more competence and confidence when they attempt to problem-solve on their own!

Parents, how do you coach your teen or tween to cope with mean teens and tweens?  I’d love it if you would share other strategies that have worked for your family!


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