Lunch time for tween girls can often be the most difficult part of the school day. Since it is the most concentrated social block during
the day, lots of pleasant and not-so-pleasant social dynamics play out during
that time. And an hour or so of lunch can set the tone for the entire
school day. Sadly, what should be a time to regroup, relax, eat and take a
little break often turns into a gut-wrenching experience. I'm surprised that more tween girls aren't suffering from gastrointestinal
Here is what happens at many of these largely unsupervised
lunch tables. Girls are often blocked from sitting at lunch tables by either
subtle or not-so-subtle strategies by other girls who want to exercise their
power, inflict emotional pain and/or assert their own status by being
It makes me so sad in my roles as a psychologist, mother and former tween girl to think about these kids who are trying to fit in
and simply eat their lunch, but instead have the experience of shame washing
over their youthful bodies, probably accompanied by churning stomach acids.
Unfortunately, none of our girls are immune to this experience, which seems to
be a tween girl but not a tween boy phenomenon. (Boys more often bully each other with pranks or by fighting rather than by excluding and freezing each other out. The lunch table tends to be a place where tween boys simply refuel, rather than hurt each other.)
I suggest that when you talk to your tweens about their
school day, you ask them who they're eating lunch with, because they do
seem to talk to parents about this. Of course, you may be wondering what to do. Here
are my suggestions:
1. Remind them that friendship patterns change very
quickly during the tween years. The girl who threw your daughter under the
lunch table today may try to be her friend tomorrow.
2. Validate your tween's feelings without becoming
overly emotional about the situation that she is describing. Try saying
something like, "That must feel lousy" rather than "Those kids are horrible and
not worth your time."
3. If your tween is asking for your advice, then you can suggest that
your daughter try being a "floater" or someone who tries out different tables.
She may not need to belong to just one table. Sometimes trying too hard to fit
in with one particular group backfires, as the other girls sense neediness.
4. Consider suggesting that your tween daughter focus more on where she would like to sit rather than sitting with the often-elusive "populars." This may give her a sense of control. Remind her that
popular is not necessarily a positive characteristic, and that it is often
associated with exclusivity.
5. Reinforce the idea that just as friendships
evolve and dissolve, so do seating arrangements.
I wish you luck as you help your tweens navigate the murky
waters of the lunch room. At least they have a spot at their dining table at
home—yet another reason to have dinner as a family.