Written by Doctor G

When do I get involved in my daughter’s social life?

When do I get involved in my daughters social life? I try really hard to
stay out of 4th grade girl drama and just be there to hear her challenges
and help coach her with ideas. But sometimes, things sound really bad or I
can’t totally understand what really happened (as I hear it through the
overall dramatic crying). At what point do I pick up the phone and call the
other Mom? What about when she goes to the school guidance counselor
repeatedly – so clearly is seeking other adults help? Should I stay out of
it or get involved with other parents?

Rochelle, in Bakersfield, CA

A: The pain. The normal, awful, not-sure-if-its-worse-for-her-or-you social pain of the tween years. I feel you.

Now it’s time to take a step back. What is the big picture? Our kids count on us to see the forest even when they are face first in the bark of just one tree. It sounds like you are doing a good job already of not getting enmeshed. You use words like listen and coach and ideas.

The goals of childhood friendships are mostly these two: learn the skills we will need to keep friends as adults, and learn resilience. For both of these goals, kids need to learn about human nature. Which it sounds like your daughter is learning, in spades.

So when should you get involved in your daughter’s social life? When should you pick up the phone and take an information gathering role? Certainly if you feel your daughter or another child is in danger. For example, you might suspect risky behaviors that you aren’t sure an adult knows about (eating disorder, violence, substance use, sexual experimentation). Another reason might be if the situation involves a younger child that you feel might be in a tough spot. Lastly, you might call if your daughter wants you to call.

If there is no real danger (moral or legal) to anyone, here is a guide to finding the line between involvement and detachment:

The FedEx delivery rule: A good guideline is to wait three business days. In tween years, three days is approximately one thousand years. If the same situation is still a problem in three days (not counting weekends) then it may be an actual issue.

The autonomy rule: Don’t call if your daughter asks you not to. Kids are used to adult intervention but understand the perils of it as well. So respect her wishes. If she is going repeatedly to a trusted adult other than you, she is developing good coping skills and learning to speak to other adults. Get to know the guidance counselor to reassure yourself that they will contact you with a real danger or problem, and applaud your daughter’s efforts to use a resource.

The resilience rule: Don’t call too often. The more you jump in the more she picks up the message that she can’t solve her social problems herself. I know that you are just trying to get more information so that you can help HER come up with a solution. Just do this sparingly.

The TV news rule: You don’t have to have all the facts. I’m sure that her telling and retelling is a jumble of confusion and you would really like to know what actually happened. The likelihood that you will find out (even if you call everyone involved AND their moms) is slim. Often we can let go of the need to try to get a balanced view, and focus on helping our children deal with their picture of what is happening.

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