Thanks to our many readers who shared their ideas for helping girls cope when they are the target of mean girls and for providing suggestions for getting their school on board to foster a more supportive environment.
Communicate with your children and stay involved
Stand up to the mean girls.
A mom of a middle-school-aged daughter writes: “My daughter is 13 years old and has had her feelings hurt many times, because of ‘mean girls.’ She is very pretty and talented, is an honor student and is friendly to everyone. However, there is a group of girls that fall into the ‘mean girls’ category, just like the movie. According to my daughter, ‘They run the school.’
“I explained to her that the ‘mean girls’ feel their status is threatened by pretty, smart, talented people and they are acting out of fear, jealousy and insecurity. I also explained to her that those girls only have the ‘power’ that is given to them.
“That talk seemed to work and she has learned to stand up to them, and to not let their personal insecurities hurt her. Another characteristic of ‘mean girls’ is they control other people by manipulation. For example, smiling in someone’s face and then stabbing them in the back. The best way to deal with that is exposure. For example, when one of them said they liked another girl’s top and then made a gagging gesture when the girl turned her back, my daughter asked her in front of an entire group of people why she was making a gagging gesture. Lastly, I explained to her that this is middle school, that the relationships she makes later in life will be the important ones, and not to worry herself with people that don’t matter. I know this sounds harsh, but I feel the best way to approach issues is with the truth, no sugar coating.”
Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives.
One mother in Virginia puts the blame on the parents of mean girls: “I made the mistake of contacting the mother of a mean girl — who simply hung up on me. I quickly realized that ‘Queen Bee’ girls are usually the daughters of ‘Queen Bee’ mothers.
“I recommend the book, Queen Bees and Wannabees, by Rosalind Wiseman. For my daughter, it was very helpful to understand the hierarchies within a clique and the roles the members play. Seeing the situation with that objectivity made the ‘meanness’ seem less personal to her. She recognized how the mean girls at her school were using power plays and emotional games that she didn’t want to feed into.”
Parents should share what they’ve learned about life.
A Massachusetts guidance counselor and mother encourages preparing girls for the real world: “The best thing we can do to help children suffering from ‘mean girls’ is to educate them and their families about personal boundaries, the impending roller coaster of puberty, and the reality of life to come: that is, that people sometimes change.
“It’s too sad that I have had to tell my daughter things at the age of ten, that my mother didn’t have to tell me until the age of fourteen or fifteen. The world has changed 100 years in 20 years and not necessarily for the better. I make a point of suggesting to all parents of girls aged 10 and up to read Reviving Ophelia themselves, let their daughters read it if they can, and then read and discuss the book together. This book deals with the many different pressures on young girls today, and encourages the conversations parents should have with their daughters, but don’t always make time for…
“Encouraging girls to have lots of friends is always a good idea because we don’t want our girls to become dependent on what one other person thinks or says. We need to be acutely aware of the negative messages the media feeds to our children. Young girls are enticed into believing and following what is ‘cool’ versus what is appropriate. From body image to behavior, the media bombards young girls (and encourages boys and young men) with information that stifles creativity and individuality. Such messages encourage girls to be focused on what boys/men are supposedly looking for in a female. We need to discuss with our children, both the good and the bad choices celebrities make and reflect on the consequences. And we need to constantly remind our girls that unlike their grandmothers and even some of their mothers, they can be or do anything they want to be or do if they are willing to work for it!
“We can have more conversations with them, we can share pertinent material, we can encourage, and we can set reasonable expectations; but at the end of the day, like us, they may still have to learn from their own mistakes.”
Draw on your own experience to advise your child.
A California mom of a 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son remembers her own experience of being bullied by the mean girls: “It is so disheartening that this still goes on and there still seems to be no easy solution. My bully problems ended when I got so frustrated with the situation that I just didn’t care about getting physically hurt anymore so I simply stood up for myself.
“In the eighth grade, a ‘mean girl’ was standing against my locker one day and refused to move despite my verbal request for her to do so. I then proceeded to open my locker with her still leaning against it. She announced, ‘Ouch, Tracy, that hurt!’ In reply, I stated that if she had moved when I had asked her to, it would not have happened in the first place. Ironically, she never bothered me again, and was actually nice to me from then on. Three years later, another girl wanted to fight me over a boy and I laughed in her face. The fight never happened and neither of us got the guy.
“As a someone who was bullied a lot as a child, I am trying to teach my children to be leaders of what is right. To not allow themselves or others to be bullied and to do their best to stop it from happening by telling the teacher (preferred) or telling the bully, him or her, to leave the other child alone. I have been doing role playing with my children where I am the bully, pushing (lightly) and teasing, and working on their reactions. This has helped so much since my son was bullied in preschool. No problems in Kindergarten as of yet, but I truly believe my children are more prepared than I was.”
Confront the school to take action
It’s up to the school and parents to stop this behavior.
A father advises taking a firm stance with your school’s administration department: “Recently my daughter went through a bout of bullying from two girls. My daughter opened up to her mom first and then to me. But as a clearheaded dad I thought the advice I gave my daughter would suffice: ‘Their self esteem is based on putting down others to make themselves feel good. Ignore them. Find somewhere new to hang out. Tell the teacher,’ was my futile advice. After a month of this bullying, my daughter was visibly downcast and my philosophical perspective of ‘the world is tough so you better toughen up’ had to go. My wife and I met with her counselor and explained the situation. The counselor asked several questions but being new in that position didn’t seem to know if there is a protocol. She said she and or the dean would counsel the two young offenders. That meeting took place with the parents of the mean girls and, for now, the behavior has stopped. “To my daughter I say, as we do in the South, ‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.’ To parents, I’d give the advice:
- Be intimately involved in your child’s academic and social life.
- Immediately respond to bullying behavior.
- When dealing with the dean or counselor ask about the protocol of bullying behavior.
- Be adamant that the school officials act on a plan.
- Relay the idea that the school is legally responsible for the safety and welfare of your child.
- Threaten to pull your child out of that school if the bullying practice continues.”
It takes a village
It’s time to take a holistic approach.
A North Carolina mom of a third grader thinks it is important for the school counselor, teachers and parent community to get involved: “Mean Girls — I have observed this as a problem/issue since my daughter entered kindergarten in a public school. Frankly, it was quite shocking how mean and manipulative some young girls could be. This problem has carried forth and has become increasingly problematic in the third grade.
“For the last three and a half years, I have personally spoken to the school counselor and teachers about addressing this in the classroom and on each grade level. The schools need to become much more diligent in dealing with this problem and circumventing the results such as we hear about in the news of how cruel girls can be. To do this requires helping young girls to establish different patterns of interaction, by encouraging them to play together as much as possible vs. one-one playing, where girls tend to become very possessive of their friends, manipulative and down right mean.
“Also, group discussion of how outside factors such as the media and seeing the behavior of other peers, older children, and adults and how their choices of behavior are not always good choices. Changing the focus and placing more emphasis on learning, growing healthy self-esteem, inner beauty and respecting each other’s uniqueness paves the way for girls to have healthier mindsets and behavior, thus resulting in respect for themselves and one another.
“I am very concerned about this matter and, as a parent, feel frustrated in seeing how public schools are not paying attention to the red flags. It is their job to document and call to the attention of the appropriate authority, such behavior that a child displays in school.
“It does take a village to raise a child. The village consists of a good home environment, family support system, healthy neighborhood environment, and schools that must look at holistic approach for children. When we do not have an ideal situation for a child to be living in, it is up to those who become aware of this situation to speak up, help out, because there are many resources available in each community that can help to make things better for children and their families.”