Battling Mean Girl Syndrome

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My girls are as much a like as they are different.  One of them is very out going, while it may take the other a bit to warm up to you.  Both of them love fashion although they have thoroughly different styles.  One is Betsy Johnson while the other is more like Bob Mackie meets Coco Channel.  Physically, one is tall and lean while the other is shorter and more muscular. Neither of them is an angel, I know that. In fact, one of them covers all of the ground that she walks on  – if you know what I mean?  I am often at a loss for words at the things that come out of her mouth.  On the other hand, her sister is a lot more concerned about being perceived as being nice, therefore, she is a lot better at censoring herself.  It also means that she is a lot less likely to stand up for herself, and here is where our problem lies.

Do you ever wonder how little girls can be so mean to one another?  I guess that it could be any number of things – the media, parents, siblings, friends – I really have no real answer, I just know that it’s very troubling.  They start so young, being able to nit – pick and tear down their “friends” and it’s not that they are necessarily cunning or sneaky in their attacks. No, generally, they are just blatantly mean (and apparently do not know the correct definition of being a friend).  For instance, my daughter has what one might refer to as a pot belly.  It’s the kind of belly that’s not all that unusual on a child in elementary school.  We encourage her and the rest of our children to eat healthy, but it’s pretty persistent and we don’t freak out over it.  She tends to be very active and we figure that it will all balance out eventually.  However, where she’s been catching heat for her somewhat round belly is from her classmates.  Yep!  They point, make fun and one “really good friend” told her that she looks like “a pregnant seven-year-old.”  She was hurt and I was confused.  These are her friends? Now, I do know that children tend to have no filter.  In fact, they’re almost as bad as a peri-menopausal 46-year-old mother of five (Me – I’m talking about me), but, somehow, I believe that they knew that what they were saying was hurtful.  It was intentional.

Mean Girl Syndrome has become so commonplace that we have stopped questioning why it exits, we just accept that it does exist.  That’s not good enough for me.  I just can’t accept that as females, we have to belittle, torment and harass one another, starting at age 5.  I just don’t believe that we have to be petty and shallow and that we gain some sort of satisfaction from seeing another girl suffer by our hand.  But, what can we do to combat something that has become, well, accepted. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and not just because of my daughter’s experience, but also because since my move, I am maneuvering in new territory and trying to make friends of my own.  Did you know that mean girls turn into mean moms?  Yep, unfortunately it’s true. However, the 46 – year old peri-menopausal mom responds a bit differently than the impressionable, nice 7-year-old. That’s all I’m going to say about that.  Well, except to say that as a grown woman, it’s a lot easier to walk away from an uncomfortable situation still feeling good about yourself than it is for a young girl.

So, how do we turn the tide and help our girls learn to stand up for themselves while becoming kind and gracious women?  By the way, before any of you ladies jump on me for saying that our girls should be kind and gracious, I think that boys should be raised to be kind and gracious, too.  It’s called being a gentleman.  However, boys don’t seem to have the same social issues with each other that girls do, or at least not at early ages.  The first and best place for us to start is accepting the fact that our own daughters can be mean girls!  I had a conversation with a mom one day who told me that she was very concerned about her daughter’s transition into middle school.  I immediately figured that it was because of how mean girls can be at that age and she said “No! My daughter is the mean girl!”   She was actually concerned about it escalating in middle school.  My instant reaction was that here was a mom who’s headed in the right direction because she knows that there is a problem.  She’s not denying it, or burying her head in the sand or throwing the blame on someone else.  She is facing it head on and dealing with it.  Guess what moms?  ALL OF OUR DAUGHTERS CAN BE THE MEAN GIRL!  Unfortunately they are all just as capable of being the offender as they are of being the victim and denying it is doing a great disservice to your daughter.

With that in mind, parents, we need to start teaching the concept of kindness to our children from birth.  I don’t mean some abstract warm and fuzzy form of kindness either.  I mean actual, tangible examples of how acts of kindness play out in their lives.   Do not allow disrespectful behavior or words to be thrown about in your home.  I know that siblings fight, however, there have to be limits to what kind of talk and behavior will be tolerated.  I stress to my daughters that sisters are God’s way of ensuring that you have a best friend.  Currently we are working on respecting each other’s boundaries and choosing the words that we use when talking/arguing with one another carefully.  Parents should never just accept rude sibling behavior as normal. It should be addressed immediately because a child’s understanding of respect and decency start at home.  As they get older, provide opportunities to have them participate in various service projects in the community.  Encourage them to perform simple, random acts of kindness on a regular basis (helping a mom with kids load her groceries at the store, shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, mowing someone’s grass, etc.) .  Don’t think this can make a difference? You can read an article here entitled “Fixing the Mean Girl Syndrome” that discusses some of the same issues.

Finally, and this one may sting a bit but, parents, check your own behavior.  If you’re on the phone gossiping about the neighbors or if you routinely snub other people by not giving a friendly “hello”  as you pass by or if you talk about the round belly on some lady at the gym, chances are that your kids will, too!  I stepped on my own toes there, so you’re not alone.  It takes real effort and purpose to raise children who have enough wherewithal to recognize that everything that occurs in your head 1) doesn’t have to be said and 2) may not be very nice in the first place.   Moms, if we are obsessed with the size of our house, the labels on our clothes, the make of our car and the numbers on the scale, guess what, your children will likely follow suit.  The content of their character is far more important than any of that stuff.

As far as my daughter goes, I am encouraging her to tell these so-called “friends” of hers that their behavior is far less than friendly, then excuse herself and find someone else to talk to and play with.  Also, this week I have challenged her to introduce herself to at least one new person every day.  I know that it won’t be easy and she has some trepidation over the whole situation but, I’m confident that she will rise to the occasion.  Please, say a little prayer for her.

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