Why are those girls so mean?
Why are adolescent girls so mean to each other, and what can parents do about it?
Peer to peer
Across the country, support programs have sprouted up to provide girls with tools to change their behaviors. With names like Owning Up, Girls Circle, the Ophelia Project, Salvaging Sisterhood, Full Esteem Ahead, these programs — run by schools and community organizations — help girls realize the destructive power of cliques and learn how to form more-positive relationships with their peers.
By GreatSchools Staff
Your child can point them out on the elementary school playground or by the lockers at middle or high school: groups of girls tightly hanging together, the all-powerful cliques. Perhaps they're whispering or looking down their noses at other girls. Or they're madly sending nasty text messages or leaving anonymous commentaries on Web sites like MySpace or Facebook. You may be wondering how they can be so mean. Where does this behavior come from? What can your school do about it? And what can parents do?
From bullying to relational aggression
Kids have been behaving badly toward other kids for a long time. But in today's world, peer groups have more influence than ever before, and technology makes it easier for children to be anonymous and more widespread in their cruelty.
First it was all about the boys and the bullies. Media attention focused on bullying and how to stop stronger boys from physically attacking the weaker ones. Schools developed anti-bullying campaigns and character-education programs to combat the behavior.
In recent years, the attention has turned to adolescent girls and to what psychologists call "relational aggression," or the kind of behavior depicted in the film Mean Girls. These girls' cliques spread rumors and lies, exclude and sometimes show outright physical aggression toward other girls. Their targets are usually girls who haven't yet started developing physically, who dress differently than others, or who just don't fit in.
What is relational aggression?
Counselors who work with girls tell horrifying stories of girls' cliques and their behavior toward other girls:
- Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes (the book Mean Girls was based on), describes a ninth-grade girl who feared for her life. It all began when she started receiving anonymous threatening text messages from girls at another school warning her that she would be physically harmed because she dared to like a boy at their school.
- Julia Taylor, another school counselor and author, describes a girl who was terrorized by a clique — girls she thought were her friends. They shoved crumbled-up peanut butter cookies in her face and asked her to smell them, knowing she was allergic to peanut products. When her mother complained to the school, the administrator's reaction was "Oh, they probably didn't know she was allergic."
- A mother of an 11-year-old writes in to GreatSchools, complaining that girls are teasing her sensitive daughter because she hasn't developed. They taunt her with comments like "You're flat as a board."
Alexandra Sabina Bender, a 12-year-old Connecticut girl, was so appalled by the destructive power of cliques she witnessed firsthand that she decided to write a book titled When There's a Clique, You've Got to Think Quick to teach understanding and tolerance to her peers. The most important lesson she wants girls to learn? "We don't have to be friends, but we don't have to be enemies either," she says.