Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.
A girl I’m trying my best to avoid does nothing but talk trash to me and brings up my bad past to get on my nerves. I have an anger problem and I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and be a better person. How can I move on if I’m reminded everyday of mistakes I've made in the past. Please help me, Haley
Haley, it's always annoying to have people in your life that are determined to bring you down. And it's easy to say, "I'm not going to let them get to me," but way, way harder to actually do that in real life.
Think about it like this:
1. You’re smart enough to realize how this girl is trying to manipulate you. This is critical because a lot of people in your situation would be so angry and reactive that they wouldn’t be able to see these dynamics. If you can’t see it than you can’t manage yourself effectively.
2. Whatever you did or happened to you that gave you a bad reputation, you need to remember that you found the strength to want something better for yourself.
3. The trash-talking girl wants you back in that bad place. It doesn't matter why. So yes, she could be insecure and have a bad home life but that fact doesn’t take away from what she’s doing to you.
Deal with it like this:
This may sound weird but when I’m in your situation (and it's happened to me, too) I have a playlist that I listen to or sing in my head. On my phone I call it my "Strength and Inspiration” playlist. I want you to choose five songs that make you feel strong in a positive way (don’t choose songs that make you feel like you want revenge). As soon as you see her or when she says some snarky comment to you or about you, play one of your songs or sing it in your head.
Work That Mary J. Blige
Something Beautiful Trombone Shorty
I am not my Hair India Arie and Akon
What it's Like Whitey Ford Sings the Blues
It Don't Come Easy Bettye Levette
Also, pay attention to any messengers, the people who tell you that the girl talks behind your back. Always ask yourself what their motivation is: Are they telling you because they care about you or because they want to increase the drama?
Here's a sample script that may help you based on my SEAL strategy (Stop, Explain, Affirm, Lock). The “push back” is what the other person would probably say to get you mad or distracted. The situation is when someone just came up to you and said, “Did you hear what’ horrible girl’ is saying about you now?”
STOP: Play your song in your head and breathe so your heart slows down. Ask yourself what the messenger’s motivation is. If you think she’s a drama starter answer her with: Thanks for telling me. Please don’t talk about this with others. You’re doing this because you don’t want to feed the fire.
Then, to ‘horrible girl,’ EXPLAIN: I’m hearing that you’re talking X about me. I’m not asking to tell me if the gossip is true. I’m asking that if any part of it’s true that you stop.
Push back: She laughs. “There’s nothing going on. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Affirm (your right to be treated with dignity): Then I’d expect the things I’m hearing to end.
Push back: Well even if I’m not saying anything I can’t stop what other people say.
Lock: Look, I’m coming to you and asking you to lay off. That’s not an easy thing to do. Obviously, I can’t control what you do but that’s what I’m asking. What I can control is myself. You can try to make me feel bad but I’m not going to let you.
Then you walk away with your song in your head.
One last thing: as tempting as it is, don’t complain about her to other kids. If you need to vent (and I’d totally understand if you did) talk to a sibling or a person in your family that you’re close to. Pick someone who’s good at listening and helps you think through things.
Remember, if you do any part of this, that’s success. This is an extremely difficult situation but if you can face this you can pretty much face anything.
Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to email@example.com.
Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle.