These dangerous creatures tend to run in tight packs.
Using finely tuned senses, they are able to spot vulnerable prey,
and once they have their sights set on a target, it is tough to
refocus their attention. With swift ferociousness, they can
easily rip their prey apart, leaving a trail of destruction behind
I'm not talking about animals on the African plain. I'm
talking about "mean girls." These are the young ladies that
are more than just "not nice." They can be downright cruel
and vindictive towards others they deem weaker or those they see as
a threat. Their weapons of choice are emotional pain, put
downs, degradation, and intentional humiliation.
Before you write off mean girls as myth, there's a significant
amount of evidence for their existence. The Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that one
in four adolescent girls has been the perpetrator of or has
participated in a violent act in the past year. Another
recent national survey revealed that 33 percent of female students
reported being bullied at school. And simply catch the
national news, or read about teen suicides brought about by
relentless teasing and emotional violence by other kids. Mean
girls do exist, and the pain they cause can be devastating.
So how do you know if your teenage daughter is one of these mean
girls? And what can you do to change her ways?
Today's culture is tough on girls. We live in a
performance-driven society where worth is determined by how you
look, what you do, or what you have. Add to that the violence
and sexuality portrayed in the media and the lack of solid female
role models, and we have an environment ripe for mean girls.
The drive to compete for attention, popularity, or individuality,
pushes these girls to be more sexual, more violent, or to devalue
themselves based on the performance treadmill.
Though I don't excuse their behavior, every mean girl I've met
is really an insecure child, trying to live up to unreal
expectations. Generally, the meanness is a coping mechanism
to survive in a performance-driven environment. So these
girls try to bring up their own self-esteem by insulting or putting
other girls down. If they can make another person look bad,
perhaps they'll look better. This can also happen when a new
girl arrives at school, or another girl gets more attention from
guys, teachers and parents, making the other girls feel
threatened. Desperate for attention, the "mean girls" go out
of their way to tear that person down.
As parents, we cannot shy away from the issue. It does no
good to stick our heads in the sand and say, "Well, that's
girls for you," and leave it at that. We need to
look for the warning signs of a mean girl attitude, and nip them in
the bud. If you see your daughter developing habits of
mocking other people, dressing more provocatively, picking fights
with siblings or parents or growing an angry or spiteful demeanor,
it's time to dig a little deeper.
Through my years counseling with parents and teens, I have seen
how loving parents can be blindsided by a child who becomes a "mean
girl." Mom and dad sit in my office, shocked to hear how
their little girl is terrorizing someone else. "We had no
idea!" they tell me. It can be difficult to see our
children as capable of abusing or hurting other people. But
to prevent your daughter from becoming a mean girl, or to stop your
daughter from a habit of bullying, it is critical that parents stay
active and involved.
This may result in having all the passwords to your teen's
online accounts. With the anonymity of the Internet, kids are
finding what I call "digital courage," and using Facebook, Twitter
and other social media sites to say things that they wouldn't say
in person. Cyber bullying is a growing problem as teens and
adults lob emotional bombs while hiding behind the anonymity of the
Internet. So keep tabs on your child's online activity.
If you discover any cyber bullying, deal with it as soon as
possible. Be sure to stress the damage that such abuse can
cause, then enact stiff consequences for such behavior.
Stay involved with friends as well. Ask questions about
the people your daughter hangs out with, and what they do
together. If your child is hanging out with girls who are
sarcastic or hurtful to others, talk honestly about the concerns
you have. Let her know that you don't want her to be a mean
girl, and character is more important than fitting in.
Staying involved with your child may also mean enlisting the
help of pastors, teachers, mentors, or professionals to help your
daughter work through some tough issues. Many times the mean
girls are the ones who were bullied before, and they are simply
repeating what they have experienced. Stay engaged with your
child, and dig into the cause for their behavior. Maintaining
a relationship with your daughter goes a long way in overcoming a
mean girl attitude.
I don't think it's enough to simply stop girls from bullying
other girls. To really make a change in the heart of a mean
girl we have to be proactive! And that can start in the home.
Make a point to stop mocking others in your family. If you
find yourself participating in insulting others, or tearing people
down, swallow your pride and admit your mistake in front of your
daughter. Let her know you are willing to change and become
more positive with your family and others.
Another way to be proactive is to challenge your daughter to
place herself in someone else's shoes. One of my favorite
quotes is from the book To Kill a Mockingbird, in
which a courageous lawyer tells his young daughter, "You never
really understand a person until you consider things from his point
of view." This is the best advice for dealing with a
mean girl. Show them how their actions are affecting
others. Tell them how destructive bullying can be. Ask
them to see things from another person's view.
Even if you don't have a mean girl, you can still be proactive
in preventing bullying, and that's by encouraging the
bystanders. Too many times, others watch as kids are picked
on, abused, or treated poorly. The passivity of bystanders
allows bullying to continue without consequences. But if we
model and teach our teens the importance of standing up for the
little guy and protecting those who are being victimized, we can
make a serious dent in the bullying problem.
A recent news story illustrates this idea. A teenage girl,
who had been the target of abuse from other girls, was nominated
for the homecoming dance queen as a cruel joke. Humiliated
and distraught, the young lady had thoughts of suicide. But
once word got around about the mistreatment, the entire town
rallied behind this young girl, offering her free haircuts, prom
dresses, dinners, and limos. They started a Facebook page,
where caring individuals from all over showed their support and
scolded the bullies. And many of the kids from the school
stood behind her and supported the joke nomination as a
reality. The day of the dance, this teenage girl went to
homecoming with her head held high, and was crowned the dance
queen. The positive actions of the people in the town stopped
the bullies dead in their tracks. We need more people like
that. Let's teach our kids to be brave and bold, and stand up
for those who need assistance and help.
Mean girls don't have to be a fact of life. There are
positive steps you can take to prevent it. With a little
proactive effort, we can transform that carnivorous lioness into a
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the
founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville,
Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms
and dads, check out their website. You can also
call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
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