It's horrible, but pack behaviour rules in the early teenage years. Girls whisper, gossip, undermine and exclude. There are so many complexities to adolescent girls' relationships that US writer Rosalind Wiseman has written a tome, Queen Bees and Wannabes, about the cliques and teasing, the tyranny of appearance, the politics of the classroom, and the social minefields of sex, drugs and parties.
Being a teenage girl, she says, is like being cast adrift in a life-raft with only your peers for company. The cruise liner of normal life sails off, and your survival depends on those peers' approval. And any adult who doesn't understand this, she says, hasn't a hope of being able to reach out to a girl who is being battered and broadsided by the storm hitting her frail craft.
So, be sympathetic to your daughter's troubles and show you understand. Be a good listener and avoid handing out endless advice. Do all you can to bolster her sense of self-worth and help her maintain a wide circle of friends. But also remind her of her family's values. If sneaking, bitching and gossiping are behaviours that you don't like, then say so. Above all, be patient. In a couple of years' time, no one will remember what they were all about.
Girls are mean because they lack confidence. They have to be in a group to feel strong. My life in Year Eight was made miserable by one girl who decided to pick on me. Sometimes it was so bad I couldn't face going to school. It stopped when our form teacher made us sit down and talk about it. I didn't think it would work. I thought it would be worse, but after that it stopped.
Name and address withheld
Next week's quandary
My son says he wants to join the Combined Cadet Force when he goes to secondary school next year. This horrifies us, as we are not militaristic, and our older son steered clear of it when he went to the same school. But we don't want to be narrow-minded. What are the pros and cons?
Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by Monday, 27 March, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.