Little girls… made up of sugar and spice and everything nice. Thank heaven for ’em, am I right? If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re a mom. In which case, there is about a 50/50 chance you are the proud mommy of a beautiful little girl. She is the light of your life, the apple of her daddy’s eye, and the sweetest thing you’ve ever met. But at some point, they will encounter mean girls.
As a parent of both a little boy and a little girl, I can tell you that I have a very special and very different bond with both of my babies (even though my daughter is almost 8 – she’s my baby, ok?) Where my wild toddler son dumps the contents of entire boxes of Cheez-Its on the floor, climbs furniture, and headbutts baby dolls. My daughter was the complete opposite as a toddler. She was nurturing, she loved to cuddle. She has such a kind heart, she cares deeply about others’ feelings, and she makes friends very easily.
As a parent, I worry about both of them, of course, but there is a dark cloud that lingers undetected over my daughter’s head. At least, undetected by her. As a woman, a former elementary school teacher, and the mother of a daughter, I know girls – they’re not always made up of just sugar and spice. I’ve seen it firsthand and it terrifies me.
A few years ago when I was teaching fifth grade, I had a particularly… passionate… group of girls. Adolescents are like that, if you didn’t know. There was a lot of “mean girl” behavior going on at school. And as teachers, we all did our best to help these girls sort it out with “lunch meetings” and trips to the school guidance counselor. I thought we were doing a pretty darn good job, too… until one of the girls’ parents came in with a 15 page printout of a conversation on Facebook Messenger. It had been going on for weeks, but recently had gotten so bad that one of the girls finally reached her breaking point and showed it to her parents. I was shocked/saddened/appalled – so many things.
I felt so sad thinking about these girls. They had to come to school day after day to face these “mean girls” who were harassing them online. There were only a few active participants in the chat, but nearly the entire fifth grade – that’s three separate classes – were the acting audience.
When you think back to middle and high school I’m sure you can remember a time when you felt like the victim of “mean girls.” But for most of us, we could just go home and remove ourselves from the situation. At the very worst, we could turn off our cell phone or let it go to voicemail. But now these kids are connected to everyone all of the time, and it is dangerous.
Of course, as a teacher, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about something that happened on Facebook. And I certainly couldn’t do anything about my students’ social media usage. But I felt like I needed to do something to understand what was happening. I needed to understand why it was happening.
You’ve heard the expression “boys will be boys.” Well, what about “girls will be girls?” I spent the next few weeks doing research, going over theory after theory of why females might feel the need to compete with each other. I read about “mean girls” who grew up to become “mean women,” but nothing seemed to strike a chord with me. Then, I happened upon a book called, Odd Girl Out – The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. It was fascinating, and I found myself reading it every free second that I had. And it made sense. Girls are behaving this way because it is expected from girls.
Sugar and spice and everything nice… not confrontation and anger. Where boys are expected to confront one another, hash out their problems, and move on, girls are expected, whether we realize it or not, to practice more of a “hidden aggression” approach. Think about that for just a moment – think about the movie Mean Girls or the hit HBO show Big Little Lies. Admittedly, I’ve seen both, I laughed at the “Burn Book,” I loved the drama between the moms on Big Little Lies. It’s entertainment, after all. So then why are we surprised when girls behave exactly like we expect them to behave?
As a parent, my two biggest goals are 1. To keep my children safe and happy 2. To make sure they don’t grow up to be jerks. When it comes to mean girls, these two go hand in hand. You know what I’m talking about, “It was better to be in The Plastics, hating life, than to not be in at all.”
So after much consideration, here is my plan of action for when (not if) Sophia encounters “mean girls.”
The Popular Thing vs. The Right Thing
This is a big one, I want to make it very clear that the right thing is not always the popular thing. This is a tough one, because kids (ok, adults too) all want to fit in. It’s human nature. I am trying to be very conscious of my actions and words, because I know that my daughter is always, always, watching me. She hears every word I mutter under my breath. My daughter listens to phone conversations and hears how I talk to and/or about people that one could consider gossip. She notices every single eye roll. I have to be aware of my actions so that I can model the kind of behavior I do want her to emulate. And believe it or not, this is hard to do all of the time.
Model Real Friendship
I am going to teach my daughter what real friendship looks like. I strive to foster meaningful friendships and talk to her about what a friend should be. A true friend isn’t going to stop being your friend if you include someone else in your game or put you down. They won’t tell you who you can or can’t play with. They won’t ask you to do something you’re not comfortable doing.
Get the Heck Out of Dodge
Mean girls only perform when there is an audience watching. Walk away. Watching from the sidelines doesn’t make you uninvolved, it makes you complicit. Step in and say something! Or if the situations seems unsafe or you don’t feel comfortable, just walk away. Tell an adult, and get out of there.
Keep the dialogue going all of the time. Mean girls aren’t brave – they aren’t special – they don’t get to determine your (or anyone’s) value. But that doesn’t change the fact that their words and actions can hurt. I want to be sure that we can talk about that any time without fear or hesitation.
I know that I can’t protect my daughter from every mean girl she might encounter. This blog post isn’t going to change the world, but it could change the world for my child. Take it from me, it’s tough out there for our girls… If you don’t believe me, ask them yourself. Start the dialogue and you just might be surprised at how much they have wanted to share with you.