Dear Carolyn • My daughter, 12, has had the same best friend since she was 5. I also work with her mom. Last year my daughter told me her friend was pinching her, and had been since kindergarten. I coached her to tell her friend to stop pinching, and it seemed to end. I also let the girl's mother know she was appalled, but also tends not to get involved. Now I've heard from other parents that they or their children have seen this friend being mean to my daughter. My daughter said her friend tells her the things she likes to do are "lame." She has also made derogatory comments about my daughter's appearance. My daughter also said that when she tells her friend she is being mean, her friend says she is too sensitive. Is it time to cool down this friendship? I'm not sure it should end completely, but I do think it's time to take a break. My daughter has several other friends she is close to. What do I tell the girl's mother? And what should my daughter tell her friend?
Dear Worried Mom • Are you taking the break, or your daughter? Will you stage her big stand-up-for-herself confrontation? I don't see a broken kid; I see a parent aching to bubble-wrap her. Childhood cruelty and parental love are a potent combination best not to operate heavy machinery unsupervised when you're under its influence. If you gave clear signs your daughter was overwhelmed, then I'd answer differently but you describe a girl of 12, not 6, who apparently has thwarted the pinching, found her own words to stand up to this friend's meanness, and made "several other friends she is close to." Keep an eye on any mean-ish-girl friendships, sure, yes. Explain that people who blame her for their behavior don't deserve her trust. But don't live and die by every chapter of As the Middle School Turns, because your job is to be the keeper of perspective. When the urge to meddle feels irresistible, read a chapter or two of Best Friends, Worst Enemies, by Michael Thompson and Catherine O'Neill Grace or just bite down on your copy until the urge passes.