Girls hurt girls. Mean girls dig deep into another girl’s soul as if they are ripping it out with their bare hands, smiling and gathering up the troops to observe the pain and misery they proudly wear as a badge of honor.
Sadly, I have heard way too many stories from little girls, teen girls, and women who have been emotionally damaged by another female. Emotions run high in my office and far too many times, these emotions stem from another female.
We have all experienced or witnessed The Mean Girls Phenomenon. The idea that girls are mean and boys are typically not is a stereotype, and it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t always accurately represent the full spectrum of human behavior, but it is a thing, trust me.
Mean or hurtful behavior can be exhibited by individuals of any gender, and it’s not inherent to one gender over another. However, there may be some cultural and social factors that contribute to the perception of these stereotypes:
- Socialization: From a young age, yep, childhood again. Boys and girls can be socialized differently. Girls may be encouraged to be more relational and empathetic, while boys may be taught to be more assertive and competitive. These socialization processes can influence how individuals express their emotions or engage in conflict. Yes, this is a learned behavior.
- Expression of Emotions: Girls may be more encouraged to express their emotions openly, which could include both positive and negative emotions. Boys, on the other hand, may be socialized to suppress and mask certain emotions, including vulnerability and sadness, which might make it seem like they are less “mean.” God forbid a boy cry!!!
- Peer Dynamics: Peer groups and social norms can play a significant role in shaping behavior. Boys and girls may experience different peer dynamics, and what is considered acceptable behavior within those groups can vary. Certain behaviors are welcomed with girls where boys are not allowed to have the same verbiage or behaviors.
- Cultural Expectations: Cultural norms and expectations around gender roles can influence how boys and girls are expected to behave. These expectations can vary widely across different cultures and societies. The home a child lives in will groom certain behaviors that are acceptable and not acceptable.
- Individual Differences: It’s essential to remember that individuals vary greatly in their behavior, temperament, and personality. While some girls or boys may exhibit mean behavior, it’s not representative of all individuals of that gender.
- Misinterpretation or Bias: Mean behavior may not always be recognized or labeled as such when it is exhibited by boys. You don’t typically hear, “Boys are just mean” like you hear, “Girls are just mean”. Different interpretations of the exact behavior from a child holds many stereotypical ideas.
Mean behavior is not exclusive to one gender, and it should not be tolerated regardless of who exhibits it but mean behavior is generally more talked about and witnessed between girls. Teaching all kids (girls in this case) empathy, effective communication, and conflict resolution skills, is extremely important.
When dealing with any individual who are acting in a hateful or hurtful manner, it’s imperative to remember that our kids must be taught that there is much more to the story that they realize. Kids realizing there is more underneath the behavior can assist the child in not taking the actions as personal. There are many factors involved in all of our lives that lead us to a gamete of different behaviors.
Some possible factors contributing to hateful behavior in some individuals, regardless of gender, may include:
- Personal Experiences: Negative experiences, such as trauma, bullying, or difficult life circumstances, can contribute to feelings of anger, resentment, or hatred. These emotions may be directed toward others as a way of coping with their own pain.
- Mental Health Issues: Mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder, can influence behavior and emotional regulation. Some individuals with untreated mental health conditions may exhibit hateful behavior.
- Social Influences: Peer pressure, group dynamics, or exposure to hateful or prejudiced beliefs within a social circle can influence behavior. People may adopt hateful attitudes or behaviors as a way of fitting in or conforming to a particular group’s norms.
- Lack of Empathy: Some individuals may struggle with empathy, making it difficult for them to understand or connect with the emotions and experiences of others. A lack of empathy can lead to hurtful or hateful behavior.
- Stress and Coping: Stress and difficult life situations can impact how people interact with others. Some individuals may lash out or engage in hateful behavior when they are under significant stress.
- Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills: Poor communication and conflict resolution skills can lead to misunderstandings and escalations that result in hateful behavior.
- Cultural or Societal Influences: Cultural or societal norms, values, or media representations can shape individuals’ attitudes and beliefs. Sometimes, these influences can promote hateful or prejudiced attitudes.
I know parents many times are stuck between wanting to report the mean behaviors to the school, calling the parent of the child, and allowing their child to handle it on their own. The answer to this isn’t always easy. There is no clear-cut answer here.
Here are some suggestions to consider to assist your child when another child is seemingly mean and the behavior continues:
- Listen to Your Daughter/Child: Start by listening to your daughter’s account of what happened. Encourage her to express her feelings and concerns. Make sure she knows that you are there to support her. Do not respond by immediately taking her side or discounting her feelings, concerns, and opinions.
- Stay Calm and Objective: Try to remain calm and objective when discussing the situation with your daughter. It’s important not to overreact or become confrontational, as this can escalate the situation and you have now lost open communication from your child.
- Gather Information: If possible, gather more information about the incident if they seem to continue. When necessary, talk to teachers, school counselors, or other parents to get a better understanding of what’s happening and whether it’s an isolated incident or a recurring problem. Do not take the stance that your child is not wrong. This is gathering information and not blaming others. Even if you want to beat the mean kid, for hurting your baby…you have to curtail your emotions and words. You child is not a victim until you know for sure they are a victim.
- Teach Empathy: Help your kid to understand that sometimes people act mean because they may be going through difficult times or facing their own challenges. Encourage empathy and understanding. This does not mean they have to accept the actions but allows them to know there is more to their story.
- Discuss Problem-Solving: Talk to your kid about how to handle conflicts and mean behavior. Teach her constructive ways to respond, such as assertively communicating her feelings, walking away from the situation, or seeking help from a trusted adult. They must learn they are in control of how they react to the mean behaviors.
- Communicate with the Other Child’s Parents: If the situation continues and it’s appropriate, consider having a respectful conversation with the other child’s parents. Share your concerns and work together to find a solution. Approach the conversation with empathy and a focus on resolving the issue rather than assigning blame. Trust me, your child does have some meanness…somewhere deep down inside and everyone has their limits.
- Involve School Authorities: If the mean behavior occurs at school and continues despite your efforts, contact the teacher, school counselor, or principal to discuss the situation. Schools often have anti-bullying policies and can take steps to address the issue. This is not the first step!
- Document Incidents: Keep a record of any incidents involving the other child’s mean behavior, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of what occurred. This documentation can be useful if you need to escalate the issue. This creates a paper trail you may need in the future.
- Seek Professional Help: If the situation persists or escalates, consider seeking guidance from a therapist or counselor who can provide strategies to help your daughter cope with the situation and build resilience. This can empower your child!
- Offer Emotional Support: Continually reassure your child that you are there for them, and provide emotional support. Encourage her to talk to you about any future incidents.
Remember that your primary goal is to ensure your child’s safety and emotional well-being while teaching them important life skills for dealing with challenging situations. Even as adults, most of us have encountered a mean girl in the work place, friend group, family, neighborhood, church, social organizations, or a stranger at the grocery store. Being a role model for empathy, problem-solving, and how we deal with others is always being observed by our children, even when we don’t realize it.
Dealing with mean girls, or bullying behavior, can be challenging for pre-teen and teenage girls. Here are some strategies and tips for how they can navigate such situations:
- Stay Calm and Confident:
- Encourage your child to stay calm and maintain self-confidence in the face of mean behavior. Bullies often target those they perceive as vulnerable. Teach the empowerment gained by using eye contact.
- Avoid Escalation:
- Teach your child not to respond to mean behavior with mean behavior. Escalation can make the situation worse. Eye contact then looking away and ignoring the behaviors allows one to feel a sense of power in the situation.
- Seek Support from Trusted Adults:
- Encourage your child to confide in a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, school counselor, or coach. These adults can provide guidance and support.
- Document Incidents:
- Suggest that your child keep a record of any bullying incidents, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of what happened. This documentation can be useful if you need to involve school authorities.
- Set Boundaries:
- Teach your child how to assertively, but not aggressively, set boundaries. They can calmly and confidently tell the bully to stop the hurtful behavior and walk away.
- Stay in Groups:
- Encourage your child to spend time with friends and stay in groups when possible. Bullies are less likely to target individuals who are with others. Girls tend to team up and get really brave on social media.
- Practice Empathy:
- Help your child understand that some bullies may be dealing with their issues or insecurities. Encourage empathy but emphasize that this doesn’t excuse the behavior.
- Develop Coping Strategies:
- Teach your child healthy coping strategies for dealing with stress and difficult emotions, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or creative outlets like art or writing.
- Online Safety:
- If the bullying includes cyberbullying, advise your child to block the bully on social media and report any harmful online behavior to the platform or a trusted adult. I believe parents need to have accessibility to all social media accounts of any child under the age of 18.
- Confide in Friends:
- Encourage your child to talk to their friends about what’s happening. Friends can provide emotional support and may be witnesses to bullying incidents. This doesn’t mean to form a group and begin talking crap – it will backfire.
- Build Self-Esteem:
- Help your child develop a strong sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Engaging in activities they enjoy and excel in can boost confidence. Self-esteem is not gained by telling your child how wonderful, perfect and beautiful they are. Self-esteem is gained by the child accomplishing difficult things they did not think they could accomplish.
- Involve School Authorities:
- If the mean behavior continues, consider involving school authorities. Share the documented incidents and concerns with teachers, principals, or school counselors. Schools have anti-bullying policies and can take action. Do not do this without your child knowing,
- Know Legal Rights:
- Familiarize yourself and your child with your local and national laws regarding bullying. In some cases, legal action may be necessary, if constituted. This is rare but I have seen it and it was necessary.
- Professional Help:
- If the bullying has a severe and lasting impact on your child’s mental health, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional. Therapy can provide strategies for coping, healing, empowerment, and boosting self-esteem.
- Encourage Healthy Friendships:
- Help your child build and maintain healthy friendships with individuals who are supportive and kind. Get to know the other kids’ parents. Many times, it is the parents who foster and make the relationship happen between kids. Invite kids to your home. Have sleepovers, play dates, and offer a home where kids want to hang out. You will never know how your child really reacts to others until you are around them and their friends. Being a silent observer is a way to learn a lot about your child.
Dealing with a “mean girl” can be difficult and overwhelming but you are not alone! If you are struggling right now, let’s talk. You can book an in-person or virtual visit.
Email or call anytime to schedule an in-person or virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | firstname.lastname@example.org
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.