Opinion | Family

Save the Drama: Raising Girls Who Speak Truth

Don’t let power plays manipulate young friendships.
Save the Drama: Raising Girls Who Speak Truth
Image: Noel Teo / Flickr

Growing up the only girl among four brothers, when I pictured myself as a mother, I never saw myself having daughters. In my mind, girls meant girl drama. Despite my lack of imagination, God still graciously gave me two daughters, and over the past 18 years, I’ve learned over and over again how wrong I was to believe the negative hype around raising girls.

Girl drama is definitely a thing, and a well-documented one at that. Queen Bees & Wanna Bees (the book that inspired the movie Mean Girls) examines the unique tensions of adolescent girls, specifically stemming from their relationships with each other, and countless teen movies, books, and TV shows rely on these-all-too-common tropes.

Anyone who has spent time around tweens or teens has probably noticed these kinds of power plays: pouting, shunning, hyper-sensitivity, clinginess, playing favorites, spreading gossip. Though girl drama is nothing new, today’s technology makes it even more pervasive. Drama no longer pauses when the school bell rings, it follows our daughters around in their pockets wherever they go. It does not sleep, and it never takes a summer break.

But don’t panic: drama doesn’t have to plague our daughters. We can help them steward those adolescent emotions as a gift rather than succumb to them as a curse. It’s a stewardship skill learned first and foremost not among their peers, but at home. In our home, we adopted the motto: “No one has permission to press the drama button.” Being upset was okay, expressing emotion was encouraged, but drama was not on the menu. That went for any of us, Mom, Dad, or child. By making our home a place where drama didn’t hold sway, our daughters grew up learning how to communicate their feelings in constructive ways. When it came time to navigate adolescent drama, they were better prepared to examine the feelings underlying tension or fights.

Honesty, Empathy, Kindness

The dynamics of drama will inevitably confront our daughters in their friend groups—in school, in extracurricular activities, even in church circles. As parents, we can coach our girls to read the subtext. When friends use words or actions to leverage power among each other, we can train our daughters to question what’s really happening. Who is fueling the drama? Might she be looking to exert control? What is she really afraid of in this situation?

While these conflicts may seem petty to our adult eyes, they feel adult-sized to our daughters. And they offer a valuable chance for them to learn the power of honesty and kindness. When it’s our own daughter causing the drama, we can help her to think about what fear is driving her need to control the friendship, then encourage her to confess that fear both to God and to her friend. (Something like: “I’m afraid you’ll like Macey more than me and decide not to be my friend any more. I’m sorry I’ve been getting my feelings hurt all the time.”)

That kind of honesty is rare among teens, but they are absolutely capable of it. Sometimes it will dissolve the tension, and sometimes it will be met with rejection. Either way, it gives your daughter the chance to speak truth, own her sin, and ask for forgiveness—to handle the situation like the adult she hopes to become.

This approach to drama also teaches girls empathy. Examining and confessing the root of her own dramatic behaviors helps your daughter when she becomes a target of someone else’s. She is better able to see the attack as the product of their hurts or insecurities. Knowing that she herself is often not the root of the problem can help her to respond in a way that diminishes drama, rather than perpetuating it.

It is true that people need our compassion the most when they appear to need it the least. Rather than respond to drama in kind, our daughters can learn to respond in kindness. When Drama deploys the silent treatment, Kindness smiles and says hello, unaffected. When Drama spreads untruths, Kindness holds her own tongue and trusts that time will bear out the truth. When Drama tries to run the show, Kindness gently stands her ground. When Drama gets clingy, Kindness keeps a healthy distance.

And sometimes Kindness walks away entirely. One of the key differences between adolescent and adult relationships is their life span. Because young girls are still learning what makes a good friendship, their friendship attempts are fraught with trial and error. They’re desperate for BFFs, but they’re not mature enough to consistently pick the best companions.

So when drama just keeps showing up at the lunch table, the healthiest response might be to sever the fragile bonds of adolescent friendship. Proverbs 14:7 warns us to “leave the presence of a fool,” and adolescence is, by nature, a time where foolishness abounds. Walking away is a viable and developmentally appropriate option, one that can ultimately be a kindness to both parties. It’s also a chance to learn that life doesn’t end just because a friendship did.

Fill In the Blank

But how can our daughters assess which friendships are healthy? We find ready help through the lens of Scripture. In its famous passage on selfless love, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes the characteristics of healthy relationships. It describes an unattainable ideal, but an instructive one that can help all of us become better at loving our neighbor.

A faithful Sunday school teacher during my own middle school years offered me a simple fill-in-the-blank exercise to help shed light on the health of a relationship. She asked me to look at the passage this way:

_____________ is patient and kind; __________________does not envy or boast; _______ is not arrogant or rude. _________ does not insist on her own way; _____________ is not irritable or resentful; ___________ does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ____________ bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

She then asked me to read the passage slowly, first placing my name in the blank, and then again placing my friend’s name there. Where had the passage revealed areas of concern in the relationship? In response, how might I pray for my friend? What might I confess to God or to them? Only one name can be placed in the blanks of that passage and not be found wanting. But using it as a gauge for relational health can reveal whether a friendship is cultivating Christlikeness or chaos.

While it may be impossible to eliminate drama from their relationships, girls can learn to respond to it in healthy, God-honoring ways. Daughters who own their own underlying fears and treat the fears of others with empathy and kindness are trading a pattern of drama for a pattern of discipline befitting a follower of Christ. Make no mistake: it is harder to be a disciple than a drama queen. But it is so much better. As parents, we don’t need to dread the teen years with our daughters or accept drama as their destiny. Instead, we can parent prayerfully and faithfully toward a dramatically better outcome.

Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer and teacher of women’s Bible studies in Dallas, Texas. She has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Her passion is to see women become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. She is the author of “Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and our Minds.” You can find her at JenWilkin.net.

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