Flash back with me to 1980, where I am sporting a Farrah Fawcett-inspired feathered haircut, “going with” the second most popular guy at Fairmount Elementary, and enjoying a measure of popularity myself even though my dad won’t let me wear clogs. The most popular guy at school, Blake, has just moved, and we are experiencing no small amount of sixth-grade devastation.

We do the only thing we can think to do. We all write him letters. At the end of the day, I collect the letters and take them home to mail them. My mom, after all, is practically the class mascot. She’s the Carpool Queen and Sleepover Diva of middle school. I know she’ll be happy to get involved.

And she was.

She took one look at letter after letter, which had all been signed “High and Horny,” and told me she had to call everyone’s parents.

And she did.

It took me about three years to figure out what “high” meant. The latter didn’t really sink in until I was in college. But losing my status as a popular girl took about one hour.

Learn how friends form values

Welcome to the years of homophily. That’s a fancy psych term for cliques. While I don’t like cliques, and we’ve worked hard to keep our kids from forming them, they are inevitable. And they can even do some good. Somewhere around the tween years, kids start to select people who are like them to be their friends. Conversely, whoever they pick to be their friends will affect who they become. Like it or not, your daughter’s friends will either support the values you are attempting to instill or overwhelm them with a different point of view.

As parents, my husband, Bob, and I have been fairly open-minded about schooling. Our children have enjoyed public, Christian (Protestant), Catholic, and home school as well as private tutoring. Our philosophy has been to be obedient to God’s Spirit in determining where each child needed to be at the time. We’re not anti-public school, but we have been extra vigilant when our kids have been involved there.

Your daughter can be exposed to just about anything in her friendships. Moms might want to watch a graphic and all-too-often realistic movie entitled Thirteen. It portrays the all-too-quick transformation of a girl who is playing with Barbies on her first day of middle school but gets caught up in the wrong crowd. She ends up using drugs, stealing clothing, and giving oral sex within just a few short months. The girl’s mom is conflicted about how this drastic change could have happened to her baby. I deal with parents every day who find themselves in this same place.

Do everything you can to learn about the risk of bad friendships and the hope of good friendships in your daughter’s life. This information will motivate you to get involved.

Get involved in her friendships

Little did I know that my mom’s uncontested titles of Carpool Queen and Sleepover Diva were critical maneuvers in protecting her little public-school girl—me! Part of me wanted more space, but most of me loved that my mom was the mom everyone could really talk to. In fifth and sixth grade, my friends exposed their drama to her as if she were a highly paid counselor. As a result, she was on the inside of our major decisions. It also gave her the knowledge to step in if I was making wrong decisions, such as selecting some friends in sixth grade with a much broader and potentially dangerous vocabulary and life experience than my own.

I never was as popular again.

By cutting me off from the friends who either knew more than or thought they knew more than I did, she was forcing me to find wise friends to walk with. Today, I’m pretty grateful for the tough decisions my mom made as she witnessed the inner workings of my misguided friendships. I look back at the friendships I eventually found, and they were much truer and more fun than those I was performing for in an effort to be popular. But popularity is going to be a big deal to most girls.

This is no small issue to be tackled. The Bible teaches that God’s way is to walk with wise friends. “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Why is it so critical that you’re involved? So that you can teach her during these tween years how to select friends that mirror her values and will stand strong with her in the teen years. The goal is not complete control, but informed guidance. (And if your daughter should come home with notes laced with the language of the drug world and sexual innuendoes, no one is going to stop you from stepping up the level of involvement.) The bottom line is that you need to insert yourself into your daughter’s friendships during the tween years, while she is still responsive.

Let me encourage you in two specific ways. Each of these have seemed like burdens to me at times, until I began to look at them as opportunities to research my daughters’ sphere of influence. “Make the most of every opportunity” is the admonition of Ephesians 5:16. Girls, it’s time to make those carpool moments and slumber-less sleepovers work for you.

Become the Carpool Queen. Driving carpool is a great way to do research on your kids. If you keep the volume on your radio turned down, you can really tune in to the generally unfiltered interaction of friends. You learn who burps loudest, who’s the meanest teacher, and who has a boyfriend. Just enjoy and learn. God will guide you in how to use this … ah … “intelligence” later on.

And while it really is the journey and not the destination that counts, you may learn a lot at the destination as well. Sitting on the sidelines of a soccer match or munching on fries at McDonald’s with the Bible quiz team just might turn out to be the wisest investment of time a mom can make.

Become the Sleepover Diva. By this, I mean that your goal should be to become the hostess with the mostest. You may be hosting a sleepover or a championship bowling celebration party. Whatever the catalyst, make it a goal that your home is the home to be at.

Does that mean your daughter shouldn’t ever go to someone else’s house for a sleepover? Not really. My girls have and they love it, but we make sure we know and trust the families who are hosting.

Pray for your daughter’s friendships

I don’t want you to become paranoid about friendships, but I do want to encourage you that the tween years are the best years to teach your daughter to be discerning about her friendships. Trying to do this in her teen years, when it really counts, will be an uphill climb. Actually, in her late tweens is when the battle becomes intense.

I have never known anyone to pray quite as diligently for her children as my mom does. To this day, she is sensitive to the Lord, who awakens her early with a specific sense of which child or grandchild will need an extra measure of prayer and in what area. Once I told her I had awakened with an extra burden to pray for my sweet son Rob’s future wife. I’m not sure we’ve met her. If we have, we don’t know she’s the one yet. But I was on my face for that precious one. My comment stopped my mom in her tracks. “The Lord awakened me early this morning to pray for her too,” she said. Though I don’ t know where she is, who she is, or what she was experiencing on February 12, 2010, her future mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law were burdened to intercede for her.

What an honor to know that the God of the universe knows far more than we do about our children, no matter what their stage of life, and is eager to hear our heart’s desires.

Adapted from Six Ways to Keep the ‘Little’ in Your Girl, ©2010 by Dannah Gresh. Published by Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon. Used by permission.