How to be Popular AND Powerful

Alexa was back. This time my daughter was ready.

Alexa: “What are you doing for the dance this Friday?”
My daughter: “I’m hanging out with Rebecca, and then we are having a sleepover.  What are you doing?”
Alexa: “Well I’M having Theresa over.  Aren’t you jealous?!”
My daughter: “Ah, no, I’m not jealous.  Why would you ask that?”
Alexa: “Because you won’t be there.”
My daughter: “You know what, Alexa?  That’s kinda rude.”
Alexa: “Oh...OK.”

My daughter’s final statement, “You know what, Alexa? That’s kinda rude,” was major progress. 

She was polite (she didn’t say, “You know what, Alexa?  You’re a ___.”) but she also didn’t let herself get pushed around. Alexa was obviously unprepared for this change.

In her previous altercations with Alexa, most of them ended with my daughter in tears or completely dumbfounded.  Like after this wonderful comment from Alexa - “You aren’t a very good friend. I mean you're nice and all, but you never prove you’re a good friend.” What does one do with that?

This dynamic has been rough for my daughter.  Luckily for me (she would argue otherwise), she has had a walking case study roaming the school hallways with which to practice her backbone. 

In the beginning, my daughter tried to contort herself all sorts of ways to get this girl to like her. This happens to be a problem for a lot of girls.  They would rather sacrifice authenticity than popularity and to do so is a very un-leaderly habit.

Lisa Damour, the author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, says that the pull of popular happens right around the time girls pull away from their own family (usually around 7th grade).  They desire acceptance to a new tribe. Therefore, there is a lot of stress and fear in gaining and maintaining this membership. 

Damour says there are two different kinds of peer popularity. Sociometric Popularity describes well-liked teens with reputations of being kind and fun.  On the other hand, Perceived Popularity is used to describe teens who hold a lot of social power but who are mostly disliked, usually because they use cruelty to gain social power.

Researchers discovered the difference when they gave girls a list of all the girls in their class and were asked to circle the names of the three girls they liked the most, the three girls they liked the least and the girls who they consider popular.  They asked the boys to do the same thing.

I’m sure you’ll have a middle-school flashback when I tell you that the researchers found many well-liked girls weren’t considered popular and that many popular girls weren’t particularly well liked.  In fact, the disliked but popular girls were described as domineering, aggressive and stuck up, while the liked and unpopular girls were described as kind and trustworthy.  

However, there was a third group - well liked girls who were also viewed as popular.  The difference was that although they were still friendly and trustworthy, they weren’t easy to push around. 

A skill set girls often struggle to master.

A skill set all of us aspire to - popular and powerful

Lest you think Alexa, was bullying my daughter, Damour puts it into perspective.  She says that girls rarely bully.  However, they use “potent indirect aggression such as spreading rumors about another girl, excluding her or poisoning her relationships with others.”  

She goes on to say that bullying is dangerous and should be treated seriously and immediately. However, it is often over-diagnosed now that we are so hyper-aware. Most altercations amongst girls are just common, everyday conflict.

Good friends have conflicts too, and it’s this conflict that, if practiced well, can make all the difference in your daughter’s confidence and authenticity as a future adult.

Girls tend to have a hard time dealing with conflict in general.  Damour says, “As a culture, we do a terrible job of helping girls figure out when they are mad. As far as girls know, they can either be a total doormat (Cinderella) or flat out cruel (Cinderella’s step-sisters).  We rarely help girls master assertion, the art of standing up for one's self, while respecting the rights of others.  We send the message that good girls are nice all the time and then we are somehow surprised when girls act out in unacceptable ways.”

So how did my daughter do it? How did she strike a balance between being respectful but also standing up for herself? We found the most important step was to understand what she needed in a friendship. We found these suggestions from Lisa Damour extremely helpful. I’ve also added a few other useful ones from Simone Marean, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Girls Leadership.

-Acknowledge and validate her feelings.
Let her know that she should respect all of her feelings even the messy, ugly ones like jealousy, loneliness, and insecurity.  These are all normal

-If your daughter says the girl she is having difficulty with is popular, ask her if the girl is truly popular or just powerful.
This will help to demystify the concept.

-Help her separate what she is thinking and feeling from how she chooses to act.
Share examples of mature, assertive behavior which can either help girls tone down or increase their actions or can help them come up with their own alternative response.  “Those girls may have a reason for distancing themselves from that girl, but they need to find a nicer way to do it. What would you do?”

-Have her move into the driver’s seat.
Marean says, “As long as girls focus on being accepted by others, they will be powerless, forgetting to even ask themselves the question of whom they like. Ask your girl what qualities she looks for in friends, or who she would like to get to know better.”

-Re-examine the goal
The BFF, the Squad, the Crush - whatever your daughter chooses to call it, creates serious misconceptions and an idealized image of girlfriends who like the same things, do everything together and never fight.  Marean encourages us to educate our daughters that these are not real friendships, and real friendships should be the goal along with all their messy ups and downs.

-Acknowledge imbalances
Who gets included or excluded is often determined by differences such as race, culture, socio-economics, sexual orientation, and ability.  We have a great opportunity here to raise socially conscious kids.

A few weeks after she stood her ground with Alexa, I walked in on my daughter talking to a different friend on video chat.  She raised her finger to her friend, to indicate that her mom had walked in, and put her on mute.  

“Candice is going through the exact same thing with Alexa!”  She exclaimed.

“Uh-oh,” I said, “You can certainly help her there.”

She nodded her head vigorously and turned back to un-mute her friend.  

As I was closing the door behind me, I heard her say, “The important question is - Do you want to change yourself to be her friend or would you rather just hang out with people who make you feel good about yourself?”


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 Girls Leadership | Popularity | Being Powerful | Difficult Conversations | Backbone | Doormat | School Conflict
 Girls Leadership | Popularity | Being Powerful | Backbone | Doormat | Difficult Conversations | School Conflict
 Girls Leadership | Popularity | Being Powerful | Backbone | Doormat | Difficult Conversations | School Conflict
 Girls Leadership | Popularity | Being Powerful | Backbone | Doormat | Difficult Conversations | School Conflict