Dear Amy:

My bright, bubbly seventh grader, Clara, has been shut out from her group of about 10 friends. One girl, Gretchen, who has been a good friend since second grade, had a birthday party, and my daughter was not invited.

Clara asked Gretchen why she was not invited, and she was told that two of the other girls did not want her there. Two other friends chastised Clara for upsetting Gretchen by asking her why she was excluded! Now only two of the girls speak to Clara.

I have a policy of staying out of "playground politics," but I hate seeing my daughter so sad. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?

- Mom in Chicago

Dear Mom:

This is classic "mean girl" behavior, and you should educate your daughter about their tactics while giving her strategies to cope with this nonsense.

Your daughter's best defense is to have a strong sense of herself, of her emerging values, and of the true meaning of friendship. These girls are not friends - they are "frenemies," and your daughter should avoid them and do her best to develop relationships with people who know how to treat one another well.

You should encourage Clara to get involved in organizations and activities that will bring her into contact with other kids and adults who appreciate her. Children who have faced this sort of thing often develop a keener sense of compassion and justice.

A groundbreaking book on this subject is

Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence

, by Rosalind Wiseman (2003, Three Rivers Press), which was the inspiration for the film

Mean Girls

. You might screen the film and see if it would be useful to watch with your daughter.

Dear Amy:

I liked your response to "Engaged in California" about "grooms-women."

My husband and I were married three years ago, and we had seven women and one man in our party. He wanted his three sisters and his brother to stand up for him, so we thought, "why not?"

The grooms-women wore black dresses and walked down the aisle with my sister, friend and cousins. Everyone who attended and saw our pictures commented on what a great idea it was.

- Karen

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to "Ask Amy," Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.