Clinical Social Worker Jillian Desiderio talks to us about keeping our minds strong as we face the pressures and challenges of everyday life.

A question a lot of middle school girls ask themselves is “Where do I fit in?” It can be confusing as friendships start to change and you are no longer sure where you belong when it comes to “social groups.” Think about it - when you were younger, you were probably told things like “you can’t say you can’t play,” and  “we are all friends in this class.” Although that idea is nice in theory, the reality is that we are not all friends and that is okay. You don’t have to be friends in general or best friends with everybody, that’s for sure.  That being said, it is not okay when we are mean or unkind to others. Sadly, sometimes girls begin to notice that their peers start to behave in a different way in middle school as they struggle to find their way through their friendships. Take a look at these categories and see if you think they apply to people you know:

The Leader

This is the girl who has the POWER. She will do whatever she needs to to keep control.

The Sidekick

This girl does whatever she needs to to support the Leader and stay close to the POWER. She allows the leader to control and manipulate her.

The Wannabe

This girl wants to be just like the leader and will do whatever she can to get the leader’s approval.

The Rumor Starter

This girl gains her power by spreading information, (true or made up), to improve her status with the leader.

The Bystander

This is the girl who witnesses mean girl behavior and often feels caught in the middle. She may not want to choose sides, for fear she will become a target of mean behavior herself.

Most likely, you could identify at least one of these definitions as sounding like someone you know. It can be hard to figure out how to deal with girls who fall into these roles. Here is the key to figuring this out - this is the role all girls could benefit from trying to be:


This girl is able to move in and out of different social groups and feel comfortable with whoever she is with. She never excludes other girls and more importantly she does NOT let anyone control her. She does not let others dictate how she views herself. If she sees someone who is being mean, unkind or trying to control others, she does not engage with those people. She chooses to be around people that make her feel good about herself.

It can feel overwhelming when thinking about how to become an independent, but the key is practicing and spreading the word. The more girls that become independents, the more kind, healthy and safe relationships girls will have. So spread the word...

About the author

Jillian Desiderio is a Clinical Social Worker based out of Yorktown Heights, New York. This piece was originally published in STRONG, a new magazine aimed at tween and teenaged girls that seeks to break the mold. While many other publications for this age group focus on celebrities, STRONG focuses on real girls with diverse interests. While other publications focus on body image and fashion, STRONG focuses on keeping a healthy body and mind. STRONG also presents great role models - girls who have overcome adversity and thrived, and women who are breaking glass ceilings in areas previously dominated by men.

Visit to learn more.