The phone call came when Kate (the names have been changed) was about to walk into an important meeting. She was totally unprepared for the venomous hysterics from her neighbor, Fran Smith. Fran claimed that Kate’s eleven-year-old daughter Lindsey had posted vicious lies about Fran’s daughter Jessica on Facebook. Jessica was apparently devastated and refusing to go to school. Fran was demanding that Kate handle the situation or she was going to go to the principal.

Flustered, Kate stammered out a weak apology and a promise to find out what was going on. Kate was a wreck after she got off the phone. Mortified, she wanted to wring Lindsey’s neck. Lately, she didn’t recognize Lindsey. Her sweet angel had suddenly morphed into a creature that could be petty and down right mean. She reminded herself not jump to any conclusions, but she had a sick feeling, not doubting the truth of Fran’s allegations. What she couldn’t understand was why Lindsey, attractive, bright and popular, would have any reason to target another girl.

When Kate calmed down sufficiently, she had the presence of mind to recognize, that as painful as this whole experience would be, she could use this as an important opportunity to demonstrate her values and to hopefully teach her daughter about empathy and personal responsibility.

Kate stopped herself from going down the path of blaming HERSELF mercilessly for having failed in her parenting. She decided to wait until she got home that evening to sit quietly with her daughter; not only to ascertain the facts but to give Lindsey a fair opportunity to comment on Fran’s accusations. Kate knew it would be important throughout to emphasize how much she loved Lindsey and how much Kate wanted to maintain a relationship where the two of them could speak up freely about important topics, without inappropriate blame or judgment. She wanted Lindsey to know that she was available to support her with the tough situations that she faced. However, Kate reiterated that she counted on every member of the family to treat each other, and friends, with respect, compassion and dignity.

In order to have this conversation in an authentic way, Kate had to do some serious soul searching about her own value system and the way that she herself treated other people. Had Kate been one to gossip meanly about others in front of her children, or one that cursed and spoke rudely to her family and friends, Lindsey could have shrugged her shoulders and said to herself “Look who’s talking?!!” However, this was not the case. Kate had always been the type of person to bend over backwards to treat others with care.

And, in this case, it actually DID matter to Lindsey that her mother would hold her with high regard. So, it was tough for Lindsey to look her mother in the eye. She became defensive, at first denying it was true. She finally admitted that she had had something to do with the posting, but she started to blame other girls, saying she wasn’t the only one who had posted things about Jessica. Kate made it very clear, that she was NOT interested in discussing the behavior of the other girls. She was concerned with her daughter’s behavior and would hold Lindsey accountable for the way that she treated other people. She counted on Lindsey to be the leader among her friends, treating everyone with respect, even if they chose not to be friends.

What Kate did next was incredibly tough. She spent some time asking Lindsey to put herself in Jessica’s shoes, imagining how painful and humiliating the posting had been. Kate told Lindsey that she expected her to write a heartfelt letter of apology. She also expected a public retraction of the falsehoods online and a public apology, as well. In addition, she expected Lindsey to apologize in person for the heartache that she had caused. When Lindsey balked, Kate said she would go with her to the Smiths to offer support because Kate knew that it would be uncomfortable for Lindsey to face the Smiths alone. Lindsey’s internet and texting privileges were strictly limited for a specific period of time.

I’m not suggesting that this is a storybook tale about one mother’s efforts that miraculously changed her daughter’s behavior overnight. Rather, this is the story of one day in the life of a family where there were ongoing tests of will and a mother’s commitment to instill values and decency. Kate has consistently held her own behavior to a high standard, trying to serve as a credible role model that she hopes her daughter will choose to emulate.

One of the toughest challenges for parents is to recognize that despite all of our efforts to raise our special darlings to become decent human beings we can be proud of, there are times that our children behave less than admirably. In fact, there may be times that we don’t like their behavior at all! Taking a step back to evaluate what their actions mean to us and how to proceed can be a daunting prospect.

Author's Bio: 

Linda Lipshutz, M.S., LCSW is a psychotherapist serving individuals, couples and families. A Palm Beach Gardens resident, she holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia and trained at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy in Manhattan. She can be reached in her Gardens office at 561 630 2827, or online at