My Daughter is Losing All Her Girlfriends…Why?

Reader’s Question

My daughter is losing all her girlfriends, and she has no clue as to why. I am very worried about how this is affecting her mentally and need some suggestions. She has always been happy and extremely friendly, and this is affecting her greatly. She is a beautiful 16-year-old girl, grade 11, and has recently been signed with 4 modeling agencies. I wondered at first, if this was why, but she is so humble about all this — she was just in a magazine ad and never even told any of her friends. She has a few modeling pics (like everyone else does) on her MySpace account and even let her close friend shoot with her, but she definitely doesn’t flaunt it or talk about it. She always lets everyone borrow all her clothes. She came crying to me yesterday and told me that both groups of her girlfriends have ditched her (2 different groups). She feels invisible, that if she disappeared, no one would even notice…

During school, everything is good — everyone is friendly, she has plenty of kids to talk to, have lunch with, etc. She said she was having a great year…but hanging out with them after school seems to be the problem. Now I do notice that she has many guy friends and when she does go out with her
girlfriends, the guys flock to her, always. Could this be the reason the girls don’t want to hang with her? I guess a bunch were sitting on the beach together, girls/guys and the two guys looked just at her and said “do YOU want to hang out later?”. She said no, because it felt so awkward that the others weren’t invited — and honestly, they all were pretty girls, so she didn’t know why she was singled out.

She is so upset about all this — she said how can she help it if the guys like to talk to her? She asked if she’s supposed to ignore them? She’s so friendly at heart and always tries to include everyone. Sometimes I think she’s too nice, so that would be hard for her, but this is breaking her heart. She said “no one likes to feel alone and I just don’t know what I did — I’m never mean or fight with anyone”.

The only insight I have as an adult is possible jealousy. Some of the girls kid around with her and say “I wish guys looked at me like that”. And one guy that wanted to date her told her that he was afraid to because he can see how well liked she is, and he wouldn’t want to be hurt by her leaving him for someone else. Should I take my clue from these kinds of comments? But I don’t want to be wrong and find out she is doing something else to make them want to avoid her, because this will just keep happening if we don’t get to the bottom of it.

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Please help. I just don’t know what to tell her to do, and it breaks my heart when she gets so excited and all dressed up to go out — then they ditch her… She said she needs some help on how to handle all this. She has asked a few of them why they don’t want to hang out, but all she gets is, “why would you think that?” and “call you back” and never do. She took two of her friends to a party last week — introduced them — yes there were lots of guys that paid attention just to her, but she tried to include them all. This week, her friends went out looking for a party, but left my daughter at home. If she confronts them, there will be drama and things will be worse, because I doubt if they will tell her the truth.

She had such a great outlook all the time, but I’m scared that this may send her in the other direction. Having girlfriends is so important at this stage — and she can’t meet new ones sitting at home. Thank you.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your daughter is the target of “relational aggression” (RA). This term was used by Crick and Grotpeter in 1995 to describe a type of indirect aggression aimed at harming an individual by damaging their relationships. It’s also called “covert bullying” and in research is more common in adolescent girls than boys. As you describe, RA takes the form of exclusion from activities, ignoring, gossipping and spreading rumors, teasing, manipulating, intimidating, and even cyberbullying.

At lower levels, relational aggression operates as you describe — a combination of manipulations and jealousy/envy. At higher levels, RA can take the form of an orchestrated and aggressive campaign designed to purposefully harm another student. I’ve addressed this topic in another question entitled “Cheerleader Mom and Daughter Bully Team” on this website. RA often involves one or a few girls who feel jealous, intimidated, or resentful. These girls then pressure other girls, using relational aggression, to isolate, reject, torment, or not associate with the target. As you’ve noticed, the target of relational aggression can experience depression, a drop in grades, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

In many areas, your daughter is years ahead of her peers in maturity and success. While her friends may “act nice” at school, they may not enjoy the social competition your daughter creates after school, especially with boys. Your family may need a realistic outlook about your daughter’s future career and how it is represented in the community. For example, you mention that your daughter has modeling pics on her MySpace, adding “like everyone else does”. In truth, your daughter is a model and to the other girls, their pics are fantasies of being a model.

Recommendations to handle relational aggression:

  • Do your homework. Read and study relational aggression and bullying. There are many websites that offer suggestions on managing this high school experience.
  • Develop out-of-school supports and activities. Friends in different areas of her life will help her survive the on-and-off friendships found in RA.
  • Develop her future career on a separate track, separated from her high school activities.
  • Obtain a status report from your daughter frequently to evaluate for increases in RA or a change in the level of aggression.
  • Obtain a professional counselor for your daughter if needed.
  • Remind her that high school is a passage, not a permanent destination. Your daughter’s goal might be to pass through high school on her way to a career and happy adult life.
  • Remind her that retaliation often doesn’t work well with RA as it provides more information and excuses to be rejected. Rather, recognizing that a situation is related to RA, jealousy, envy, etc. and ignoring it works better in most cases.

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