The best way to make a positive impact on the girl vs. girl trend sweeping the nation is to address and redirect mean girl behavior in our daughters. Like many mothers of daughters I polled, I started noticing mean girl behavior early in my daughter’s school experience. Ironically, the behavior wasn’t coming from acquaintances, but from girls my daughter considered friends.
This brings up an uncomfortable reality: there is not much we can do about mean girl behavior in other people’s kids. We can report it to their parents or to school or organization authorities, but there is little more we can do to ameliorate mean girl situations once they are happening. So what’s a pro-active mom to do?
Take heart. There is much you can do to prevent mean girl behavior in your own daughter. One more girl setting an example of how to be kind and emotionally intelligent, despite peer pressure moving in the opposite direction, can help turn the tide. If mothers can encourage their daughters to stay open, vulnerable, and in touch with feelings no matter what, we might be able to dismantle the mean girl time bomb that ticks silently away inside every girl, just waiting to go off when that girl is pushed too far.
Only when girls understand that bullying is never acceptable can a better example spread. If your daughter can embody healthier choices, she can help create harmony within her middle school girl tribe. Here are six crucial ways moms can prepare daughters to navigate the social pressures of middle school.
Define meanness. Rudeness, meanness, and bullying exist on a behavior spectrum. Meanness is intentionally hurtful, as opposed to rudeness, which is unintentionally hurtful, as opposed to bullying which is consistently hurtful. One of the problems with mean girl behavior is that it can be subtle, insidious, and elusive. Teach your daughter the difference between the three types of behaviors and how to tell the difference between someone who is consistently, purposefully mean and someone who simply makes a mistake. Make sure your child understands that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that you expect her to be kind regardless of circumstances. Keep talking about what these three behaviors mean on an ongoing basis, until your daughter can tell the difference. Once she knows she always has a choice about how to respond in any situation, you are making good progress.
Encourage Self-acceptance Over Popularity. Left to their own devices, kids will always decide that being popular is better than not being popular. In middle school, popularity is perceived as power and kids are instinctively hungry for it. Make sure you don’t secretly hope your child will be one of the popular kids. If you put this trip on your child, you are encouraging her to put perceptions over feelings, which can lead to imposter syndrome. If you want your child to be authentic and emotionally intelligent, this means accepting and liking her as she is so she can accept and like herself. If you want your daughter to have genuine self-esteem, conversations on self-acceptance need to start young, long before middle school. Then let the popularity chips fall where they may. After all, popularity does not necessarily equal happiness.
Teach How To Detach From Drama. No matter how secure and emotionally intelligent your child, hormones will be ebbing and flowing in middle school. Rather than letting this become an excuse for poor behavior, teach your daughter to step back from situations when erratic emotions are involved. Girl vendettas are common in middle school and can ignite for the slightest reasons. Your daughter may empathize with one or both girls and get inadvertently sucked into a feud if she does not know how to avoid one. Teach your daughter to listen to the facts and form her own opinion without getting involved in any drama. Encourage her to not take sides when one girl turns against another, but to be the voice of reason whenever possible. Affirm that girls need to stick together and prop each other up when they are having a bad day without getting overly involved in solving each other’s problems. Once your daughter understands that drama is a distraction from personal priorities, she can more easily steer clear.
Model Healthy Communication. Girls often start to lose their authentic voices when they become teenagers. So your job as your daughter’s confidante is to keep the doors of communication open and let her be honest and real with you as she is trying to figure everything out. If your formerly sunshiny girl suddenly turns partly cloudy, don’t fret. She may push you away and not want to talk as much as she used to, but don’t give in to the common misperception that teenagers need to be left alone. Your middleschooler can’t navigate this brave new social world solo. If you expect her to, she is going to feel stressed and look for friends who can help her take the edge off. You have to be there, Mom, every day, listening and responsive, whenever either of you wants to talk.
Keep Your Negativity In Check. When confronted with a challenging situation, your daughter will intuitively imitate the way you behave. If you project negativity onto others, she is going to learn to do the same. If you are insecure, she will be insecure. If you are superior and competitive with others, she will follow suit. If you judge and condemn…I am sure you get the picture. You can’t hold your daughter accountable for her attitudes and actions, if you are not accountable for yours. Be sure you set a good example or you just might see your least appealing qualities reflected back to you in your daughter’s behavior.
Reinforce & Challenge Your Daughter’s Strengths. If you want your daughter to be a leader, not a follower, she needs to know and use her strengths. If you and the rest of your family don’t reflect her strengths back to her, it’s going to take your daughter longer to activate her personal power. If you only reflect back her weaknesses, she is going to believe she is a walking, talking pile of not good enough, which makes her an easy target for mean girls. Girls with high self-esteem don’t usually become targets, and self-motivated girls don’t focus on the behavior of others. If they have a negative encounter with another girl, they shrug it off and bounce back quickly. So make sure your daughter is armed with something besides superiority and a sharp tongue. Be certain she knows what she is good at and encourage her to put her strengths to good use in your community for the benefit of all.
If your daughter is busy exercising her skills, challenging herself to reach new goals, and striving to make a positive impact in the world, she will gain the healthy self-esteem and confidence that result from positive personal experiences. Happy, engaged kids are less likely to bully others.
These are the kinds of conversations every mom hopes to have with her daughter in middle school. If you are not having them, then maybe your daughter needs the mean girl primer only you can give her.
Christina Katz enjoys a close relationship with her daughter despite the fact that her daughter is a teenager. Together they enjoy watching chick flicks, going out to eat, shopping, and talking about life.