It’s not the kind of news you want to hear. Your daughter has been talking behind a friend’s back – and the things she’s saying are far from kind.
You can’t figure out what’s going on, because that’s not how you raised her. You thought you taught her about compassion, empathy, acceptance and understanding. Now you find yourself wondering, Is my daughter a ‘mean girl’?
The phrase “mean girls” may have been popularized by the Lindsay Lohan movie by the same name, but the concept of girls bullying is far from new.
Most of us have experienced mean girls – those who would gossip, backstab and bully as easily as they’d befriend you to get ahead. While mean girls are not exclusive to middle school (unfortunately some mean girls don’t outgrow their behavior as adults), there seems to be a prevalence during these tumultuous years.
Their behavior is frequently referred to as “relational aggression” – behavior intended to inflict psychological and emotional pain on the target. There’s no doubt it damages self-esteem for the victim. But experts have found that bullying behavior can also cause problems for the perpetrator, who may be rejected by peers, unable to maintain healthy relationships and challenged as an adult to maintain a successful career.
Girl-bullying situations tend to be less noticeable than boy-bullying. Boys bully through name-calling or physical altercations. Girls, on the other hand, tend to be more covert: a dismissive look, a whispered rumor, an anonymous note, a turned back.
Girls often bully to exert control and boost their own self-esteem. By putting another student down, they believe they can make themselves feel better. Jealousy is often the root of mean girl behavior – envy about a boy or looks. It also can result from the bully feeling a lack of acceptance, that they don’t belong. The bully strives to turn a group against a specific girl, sometimes for no reason other than she’s an easy target.
Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, says: “Most girls long to have the kinds of conflicts they witness boys having. They want to be told something to their faces rather than be cut out of a group without a word.”
Simmons says that girls – who feel they are expected to be “nice” by parents and teachers – tend to repress their anger or allow it to emerge in these covert ways. “When girls cannot assert their feelings directly, resentment often lingers, leading to grudges and, in some cases, future acts of vengeance,” she says.
We’d all like to believe that our daughters would never choose a “mean girl” path. Experts say there are a few signs that could indicate your daughter is engaging in mean girl behavior (other than another mom telling you so):
- She appears to be controlling of her friends.
- She frequently says rude or mean things about peers or even her own friends.
- She is obsessed with popularity.
- She is easily frustrated.
- She is easily able to manipulate people and situations.
If you suspect your daughter is a “mean girl”:
- Talk to her about who makes up her social group and how she feels about other students in school. Listen without judging.
- Ask her how she would feel if other students were excluding her, criticizing her, making fun of her, etc. Ask her how she thinks she makes other students feel.
- Discuss your family’s values and how her actions line up with those.
- Help her find more effective ways to communicate with peers and problem solve.
- Model healthy ways of dealing with conflict. If you backstab and gossip about your “friends,” your child will mimic your behavior.
- Examine behavior in your own household. If sarcastic teasing, taunting and name-calling is allowed in your home, your children will likely replicate the behavior outside the home.
Experts suggest counseling if the “mean girl” behavior continues.
Acceptance and a sense of belonging start at home. Providing boundaries and discipline, as well as teaching healthy communication skills, can foster a respectful, cooperative spirit – both inside the home and beyond.
Good communication skills start at home, as children model the way you communicate. Education.com offers tips on communicating with your child: Parent Communication. While the piece refers to children younger than middle school, it is never too late to equip your child with necessary skills.
Read an interview with Odd Girl Outauthor Rachel Simmons at Harcourt Books.