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Saturday, March 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Book Review

"Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads" and other competitive cliques at school — among the parents

Seattle Times staff reporter

"Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads"
Rosalind Wiseman with Elizabeth Rapoport
Crown Publishers, $25

Rosalind Wiseman hopes parents can find "sane" ways to be involved in their children's lives that don't include threatening to sue teachers over grades, using "we" when talking about a senior's SAT scores or dissing parents who aren't part of the PTA crowd.

In her new book, "Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads: Dealing with the Parents, Teachers, Coaches and Counselors Who Can Make — Or Break — Your Child's Future," Wiseman notes, "Over and over, I've seen parents use their children's lives as an arena to enhance their own popularity, prestige, sense of self-esteem and entitlement — to their children's detriment."

Wiseman, who wrote the best-selling "mean girls" book "Queen Bees & Wannabes," decided to tackle her new subject after so many parents confided that dominating parents and cliques control schools at the adult level, too. Being a parent "taps into our deepest insecurities, makes us question our every ability and causes us to measure ourselves against everyone around us. In other words, it makes us feel like seventh-graders all over again."

Author appearance

Rosalind Wiseman will discuss her new book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park, 206-366-3333.

In addition to highlighting parent personalities, she addresses specific situations, such as kid parties (don't wrangle an invitation even if your child is crushed), meetings with teachers and principals and parent group politics (one section is notably titled, "Problem: You're Dealing With an Evil Tyrant Masquerading as a Helpful Parent Leader").

More mean-girls books


"See Jane Hit: Why Girls are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It" James Garbarino, author of "Lost Boys," looks at cultural changes contributing to physical aggression. ($25.95, released last month by The Penguin Press).

"Sugar & Spice and No Longer Nice: How We Can Stop Girls' Violence" by Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Howard Spivak ($24.95, Jossey-Bass, 2005).

"Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees" by Cheryl Dellasega ($24.95, Wiley, 2005).

"Mean Chicks, Cliques, and Dirty Tricks: A Real Girl's Guide to Getting Through the Day With Smarts and Style" edited by Erika Shearin Karres ($8.95, Adams Media Corporation, 2004).

"Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying" by Cheryl Dellasega and Charisse Nixon ($14, Fireside, 2003).

"Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence" by Rosalind Wiseman ($14.95, Three Rivers Press, 2002).

"Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls" by Rachel Simmons ($14, Harvest Books, 2002) Also: "Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write about Bullies, Cliques, Popularity, and Jealousy," 2004.

"The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do — Sex Play, Aggression and Their Guilt" by Sharon Lamb ($24, The Free Press, 2002).

Where other books suggest what to do if teens drink or do drugs, Wiseman focuses on the parent-to-parent issues that arise, such as, "Should I call the other parents if I catch my child and his friends drunk or stoned?" (She votes yes.)

As co-founder of the nonprofit Empower Program, Wiseman's primary focus is teens and violence prevention. The new book isn't based on formal research but rather on parent and educator comments gleaned when she visited schools for presentations. She often hedges with qualifiers such as "based on my work with them" or "allow me to make some generalizations about this generation's parenting challenges."

The book's strengths are ample quotes from parents and school faculty; Wiseman's expertise in conflict management; her effort to include men's perspectives as dads, coaches and educators; and her forthright writing style. (About gifted programs, she notes, "This is an extreme Perfect Parent World sport in which everybody who can brags about their child's test scores while simultaneously expending tremendous amounts of energy to look like they aren't.")

Some of her tips:

Speak one-on-one with a teacher, coach, fellow parent or administrator about a problem. Challenging someone's authority in front of others is likely to backfire.

Avoid inflammatory words. For example, detail behavior you find unacceptable rather than labeling it "inappropriate." Trade "acknowledge" for "apologize."

Be wary of "advocates." A parent "working in their child's best interests" can "justify some of the nastiest parental behavior," Wiseman notes. "It's only a short step to the assumption that anyone who disagrees with your opinion is acting against the best interests of your child — which makes that person a threat that needs to be eliminated." The "noble cause" of a child's welfare should not condone uncivil behavior such as yelling or malicious gossip.

Listen between the lines. If a parent stresses what a great relationship she has with her child, she could be hinting that she has inside info on your kid but doesn't know how to bring it up. Give an opening: "If your daughter ever tells you something worrisome about mine, I hope you'd share it with me."

Don't promise you won't get involved. It's usually best to give kids a chance to resolve issues on their own, but with adult support. There's a happy medium between fighting all children's battles and letting them flounder in a situation where they feel powerless (confronting a popular child or teacher). Advising a child to "ignore it" or "just be nice to them" rarely works.

Step in if you see a pattern of unfairness or disrespect. But in most cases, let kids work out grades with teachers. "A bad test grade doesn't have nearly as much effect on your child's future as does teaching him how to cope with it effectively." Even if you're polite, teachers may be defensive because previous experiences with parents have likely ended in insults to their professionalism.

Gather information first. "There are always two sides to a story. If you go in with guns blazing and later find out that your child was responsible for any part of the problem, you'll lose credibility, get embarrassed and defensive, and find your point of view more likely to be dismissed."

Don't go above someone's head until you and your child have tried addressing the issue. Even then, consider approaching their superior as a consultant: "I need advice on working with this coach."

Don't make friendship the goal. If you speak with other parents about the way their child is treating yours, be clear that you aren't saying the kids have to stay friends. Instead, focus on what needs to be done to stop nasty behavior.

Stephanie Dunnewind: sdunnewind@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2091.

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