As middle school girls enter the early days of puberty, they begin to pull away from their parents and form very private tribes, as we call them, with their friends. These tribes usually have intense secrecy expectations and provide a safe place for the girls to be open with one another. Forming relationships outside the family is normal for young girls. It is all part of the maturing process from childhood to becoming a young adult.
The intention of the tribe is to keep parental influence out and be an independent group. The tribe is a great place for young girls to express themselves and most of what they talk about is just fun, young girl stuff.
A concern that parents need to be aware of, however, is if real life situations are only being shared among girls in the tribe which can be serious. For example, if one of the girls is struggling with depression, no one else might know about it but these young girls. That is a big responsibility for the rest of the tribe to feel responsible for this one girl’s emotional state. Another example is if one of the girls lets her friends know she is being sexually harassed by a boy at school and no one else knows.
You can only imagine the emotional turmoil that is experienced by the girls who know their friend is struggling but it would violate the basic creed of the tribe to tell an adult about their concerns.
When It’s Time to Intervene
As the parent of a young girl, you walk a delicate line between your daughter and her tribe. Your daughter’s friends will welcome any support you give them such as rides to activities, meals you prepare for them, and a big hug when you see them. But what are you to do if you become concerned that your daughter seems to be worried about something and does not open up with you about it?
Here is a suggestion about how to begin a conversation when you first observe that she seems troubled. Mention to her that you have noticed that she seems concerned about something. Let her know that you have confidence she will find a good solution to the problem. Also let her know that you are here to listen if she feels she needs someone to talk to. Try not to demand information or appear to take control.
Hopefully, this gentle and supportive approach will be enough to start a good conversation.