Monday, February 9, 2009

A Message to Mean Girls...."Back Off!"

Relational Aggression encompasses behaviors that harm others by damaging, threatening to damage or manipulating one's relationships with his/her peers, or by injuring one's feelings of social acceptance. It is often referred to as covert bullying and is cruel and cunning. It includes exclusion, secrets, lies, gossip, taunting, name calling, teasing and alliance building. It is more prevalent in females than males.

Last March, I wrote that my daughter "E" was having trouble with school bullies. I am amazed at how mean kids are to each other. Name-calling and put downs seem to be common. As a parent, I teach my daughter to be polite, kind, respectful and compassionate.

On Monday, I picked E up from basketball practice. She was upset because she felt that girls were mean to her. There is a new girl in the class and E tried to be her friend. The resident mean girl "MG" whispered into the new girl's ear that E was a baby and is sensitive (we found this out later). Immediately, the new girl jumped on the MG bandwagon and began to pick on my daughter.

E tries to be friends with MG. E sat down next to MG but MG moved away. E asked her why she moved and MG told her it was because they were not friends. My daughter asked MG why they were not friends. E was promptly told that it was because she does not make fun of people. Seriously? I told E that I was proud of her for not making fun of people.

My daughter takes everything to heart. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. Everyone knows when she is upset because of her body language. How can I help her? When I tell her not to let things bother her so much she tells me that she can't change who she is.

She is right.

My message is for Mean Girls past, present and future...."Back Off!"


Mark Cook said...

First of let me say I'm sorry that your daughter is finds herself in that situation. I know you as a parent feel it too. Your link does show some good resources. Rosalind Wiseman the author of "Queen bees and WannaBees" came to our high school to speak/ work with the kids. After doing so she said she would never return. She found the inculturated arrogance astounding. Keep in mind this is a good school in an area with a lot affluence.

Girls can be much more vicious than guys. I have seen girls aggressiveness turn around and bite them on the butt. The thing that we have foynd most benefitial is when the student has more than one group of friends. That way when things get ulgy with one, they can shift and spend time with another group. This lets things cool down. Knowing they can go to other groups lessens anxiety around being excluded and also falling into temptation or bowing to pressure to keep from losing the group. Hold on for the next few years. Even the smoothest experiences can be a wild ride in adolescence.

Unknown said...

You don't know me: I linked over through Mokuren, since the title piqued my interest. As a male, I have only an observational knowledge of what it is like to be a girl or woman.

Caveats now aside:

All people need support from those who understand them. Lacking this makes a person vulnerable. (Sadly, this means that a person needs acceptance from people who they believe understand them, or it doesn't work.)

That's not a criticism of your concern or parenting at all. Children will seek outside acknowledgment beyond their parents. It's just a fact of life, and it's a good thing, actually.

I'm pretty sure that the cliques she is fighting are pervasive, or she would already have dealt with the problem on her own. This situation sounds like a small group of students. Maintaining a rigid pecking order is unnatural, and the larger the group, the more difficult is is to maintain.

Let me guess: the clique is focused on one particularly dominant and aggressive ringleader. She keeps control by attacking certain people (socially speaking).

If so, part of the viciousness is borne of desperation. By picking on one target, the ringleader can keep the group from accepting your daughter and stay focused away from, well, rebellion. The "queen" is probably very careful of the rules, too, to avoid negative attention from adults and greater.

If your daughter is strong enough to cling to her morals in the face of such hatred and attempt to help others, regardless, she is probably a candidate for queen bee, herself. Hence the desperation and the choice of target. The current dominant girl is likely less liked by her "followers," than your daughter would be, but they are comfortably certain of their place in the current hierarchy, and have likely not thought much about switching sides. It's a risk assessment.

If she can get the support she needs outside of the situation where she's hurting, she should be able to, quite correctly, downplay the value she places on those whose opinions are not worthy of her consideration. That would show less weakness, and may even allow her to attract some of the others to her side.

Something to consider: Your daughter has already demonstrated considerable personal power. She chose to make that new girl's life better. In an effort to undercut the obvious resulting support such an effort would engender, the others found the need to absorb the new girl without further neglect or hostility. Your daughter succeeded at the good deed she attempted, even if the ungrateful target of her charity did not appropriately reciprocate.

The boys in her class are most likely immune to the queen, I might note. Some respite might be had, if she shares any interests with them. I don't know what other options for peers are available, but those are some thoughts on this matter I had

Steve said...

we have a similar dilemma with my son. He's also very sensitive, and also wears his emotions on his sleeve.

I encourage him to be himself and to ignore the mean kids. I remind him that he can't control what they do. He can only control his own behavior.

All I can really say, though, is that it's not just the girls who are mean. Kids in general work out their insecurities often in negative ways. It's a shame, but it hasn't really changed much over the years.

I'm just glad he's not fighting every day like I did at his age. School in Texas in the late 70's/early 80's was remeniscent of Lord of the Flies.

Good luck.

child in bloom said...

This pulls at my heart strings and I will be sure to talk to "E" about it when I am home.

I really remember those days, I didn't fit in perfectly either. Girls are extremely cruel at a young age and some never grow out of it. But it all passes for those who know who they really are. I'm so glad she doesn't pick on other girls and that she knows who she is.

Ill do my best when I am home. But please tell "E" that I was the same way, maybe that will help for now...

Steve said...

I think there is something about girls doing this stuff so much more than boys nowadays.

Have you considered any type of private school? It's been the best thing I ever did for my kids. (and it doesn't have to be the "best" or "most expensive" one!)

Michele said...

Oldman: Wow…that is an interesting story about Rosalind Wiseman. You make good points about having multiple groups of friends. Thanks for the comments.

The Nate: I am glad you stopped by my blog. I appreciate your comments and the assessment of my daughter’s situation. Your assumptions are correct. The ringleader surrounds herself with a small group of girls. MG goes out of her way to be nice and polite when adults are watching. It is hard to believe these girls are only nine.

My daughter has a good sense of what is right and just. She will help others on the playground or save a baby bird that has fallen from its nest. I want her to be the person she is and not feel pressured to change in order to fit in.

Steve: Thanks for the comment. Lord of the Flies…that’s intense. I send my daughter off to school with a hug and a reminder to “Be who you are”.

Child in Bloom: She will be happy to see you this weekend.

Steve: Ok…here is the sad part…she goes to Catholic school.

Anonymous said...

We struggle with similar issues with my 10 yo and my 8 yo. My 8 yo is extremely sensitive and it stuns me that pecking orders start as early as kindergarten.

Often I'm at a loss as to what to say or do, but I just try to help my girls be strong and believe in who they are and doing the right thing.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

That is, sadly, familiar.

For clarification, I was not suggesting boys do not have bullies or never relentlessly abuse each other. I was merely pointing out that boys usually have an independent hierarchy from the girls. This means that she might be the primary target for the girls, but might still be capable of relating to the boys on fairer footing. It was just an idea to consider for a strategy.

I've been pondering this problem for years, and have no easy answer. I wonder, though, what the parents of the other children and the teachers think is going on? That's one thing I have never fully determined.

If the girls were doing something else, drinking, drugs, or whatever, it seems obvious to me that their parents should be told. This might be part of the answer. I haven't actually seen that tried, so I don't know how it would play out.

Dan Prager said...

Good luck with this.

I wonder: Does the school has an anti-bullying policy? Can you talk with the teacher, and if necessary, the principal?

While there is certainly virtue in our children developing resilience and resourcefulness -- as "oldman" and others have suggested-- perhaps there are steps that can be taken to encourage a more wholesome environment, where bullying is firmly discouraged.

Anonymous said...

Tough problem without an easy answer. I clicked the link about the relational aggression and learned a little about how girls can be intimidating.

One thing I can think of that my wife and I had to tell her daughter - one cannot be friends with everyone. In life we will only have a few close friends and some acquaintances. Everyone else does not really matter. That is a hard sell for a child as they are trying to gain acceptance among their peers.

I would say to just continue being supportive and point out that this girl will not matter to her in the larger scheme of things. While she may not be able to instantly change who she is - she should learn and adjust her perspective over time - I think we all do as we learn sometimes hard lessons in life. You are doing the right thing to listen and be supportive.