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Q. My daughter just started her first year of middle school. She's always been very confident—a natural leader—but I fear she's heading to the dark side. I've heard from other parents that she ignores her longtime friends at lunch to hang with the in crowd. She's changing, and I want to open the lines of communication. How should I confront her?
A. Naturally confident leaders sometimes like to flex their power in the wrong ways. It's up to you to teach her to act ethically. Take her somewhere you can talk privately while doing another activity, like walking around the block. Say, "I hear you're treating your old friends badly. Is that accurate?" When she demands to know who's talking about her, or launches into why everyone else is being oversensitive, respond this way: "You don't have to be friends with everyone, but that doesn't mean you have the right to be mean, which our family defines as ignoring others or making them feel unwelcome. And it doesn't matter whether you think your actions are wrong—if someone says she feels hurt by what you're doing, you need to respect that." Finally, because your daughter might be tempted to punish whomever she thinks got her in trouble, remind her that if any of her old friends' lives become more difficult due to the conversation the two of you are having, she'll be held accountable.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.