This article was researched online and based on a number of different articles referenced in the article including Girls and Their Frenemies on the SMC Education Blog.
As parents we all want our girls to be protected from harm. In the back of our mind is the threat of pedophiles, on-line grooming, sexting, sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, or that our daughter might actually like Justin Beiber (although his music has got a lot better recently). Seriously though, of the many things that can potentially harm our girls the most likely influence on them is the day to day damage they do to each other in their friendship groups. Some experts refer to this as Relational Aggression.
“Mean Girl” behaviour, “bitchiness”, these are the everyday names for relational aggression. It is a behavioural pattern that is demonstrated every day by school aged girls across the country, but of course it’s not exclusive to school girls, they obviously learn it from somewhere? There are enough posts about it on the School Mum page to understand that it occurs frequently among adults as well.
Like any relationship there are multiple factors at play and some of the negative ones are power, fear, insecurity, jealousy and hierarchy. Whether we like it or not these negative factors impact the way we relate to others and they commonly rear their ugly heads among adolescents. Adolescents b y nature are finding their way within social networks and groupings and are developing the skills to negotiate relationships with a number of different people. Also adolescents are not yet mature, so these negative factors will have the biggest impact on girls during their teenage years. The reality though is that most adults are still dealing with them as well, whether it’s at work, in their own relationship, at school pick up every afternoon, or with the other soccer mums on Saturday mornings.
According to Linda Stade from The SMC Education Blog relational aggression includes behaviour such as:
- The silent treatment
- Belittling (the one that is often followed by ‘just joking’)
- Conditional friendship
Why does it Happen?
Researchers say that teen girls have a few basic needs. They are acceptance, belonging, control and meaningful existence. When those needs aren’t being met, girls can sometimes do mean things to get them.
Ultimately mean behaviour is about filling some kind of emotional gap in the perpetrators own personal life, and when other people play along it is because they haven’t got the guts to say no or they want to be part of the group. So, Mean Girl behaviour can also be about staying part of a group and being accepted. Sometimes groups define themselves by who is “not” part of the group as much as who “is” part of the group. The problem is when defining who is not part of the group becomes mean and nasty.
And then came the Internet:
In recent times it has become even more complicated because of the internet. Mean Girls can use social media to harm others through cyber-bullying. In addition to in-person gossip, they also use online gossip, sexual bullying and other hurtful tactics such a posting hurtful pictures and even starting whole pages aimed at demeaning a particular person. Social media also can be used to hurt girls when cliques are reinforced in cyberspace. Girls often post pictures of exclusive parties and events where only a select few were included.
How do we help our kids if they are going through this?
The best way to help our children cope with Mean Girl behaviour (because everyone will experience it to some extent) is to help them be emotionally literate. Emotional Literacy involves having self-awareness and recognition of one’s own feelings and knowing how to manage them, such as the ability to stay calm when angered or to reassure oneself when in doubt. Linda Stade from the SMC Education Blog notes that:
“Some kids are lucky enough and emotionally literate enough to enjoy relationships with genuine understanding, and empathy. They support one another and spend time sharing common interests. In my experience these kids are usually involved in a lot of sport, have varied interests and are exposed to a lot of different people of varying ages. The focus is on participating and being involved. However, even these kids come face to face with relational aggression from time to time”. http://smceducationblog.tumblr.com/post/150629869120/girls-and-their-frenemies
The key takeaways from the above quote are that young people need to: have varied interests, exposure to a lot of different people of varying ages, and involvement in sport or activities with a varied peer group. This may include team sports or dance and drama groups that involve working with many others. Being exposed to people of various age groups help young people understand others more. If they are spending time with people older than them they have to learn how to be more mature than if they always spend time with people of the same age. The best way to learn how to grow up is often from other grown-ups.
What else can we do as Parents?
Explicitly Teach: Things like kindness, compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence. Also help kids recognise who is loyal and who is safe. Talk to them about relational aggression. They should be able to recognise it and name it.
Role Play: Sometimes we need to role play different strategies with our kids so they can better put them into practice in real life. Rather than just give advice help them to be able to implement particular strategies that will benefit them when they encounter Mean Girl behaviour.
Strategies: The following are suggested strategies young people can use when dealing with relational aggression, from Sheri Gordon on “8 Tips for Dealing with Mean Girls“. Some of them would be useful to role-play as described above:
- “Smile and stay strong.” Mean girls often have a natural ability to work out whom they can control and manipulate. Encourage your daughter to smile and to remain confident. She should avoid looking nervous, insecure or defeated. Work with your daughter on being resilient and building self-esteem. Mean girls are less likely to repeat their tactics if your daughter can remain confident and in control.
- “Be confident and assertive.” Every girl needs to learn how to stand up for herself, especially against mean girls. Be careful not to seek revenge though as this can often backfire and make things worse.
- “Consider your response.” Remind your daughter that although she has no control over what other people say or do, she does have control over her response. Stress that no matter what a mean girl says or does, she should try to keep her responses free of emotion. Mean Girls love getting a reaction from their victim.
- “Disengage from the conversation.” If your daughter is a bystander to mean girl behaviour, she needs to know that standing by and saying nothing communicates that she accepts this type of behaviour.
- “Keep an adult informed.” Too many times, girls think they can or should handle mean girl behaviour on their own. While there are a number of reasons why kids don’t tell anyone about bullying, stress to your daughter that you and other adults are there to help her.
- “Find another group of friends.” Often the mean girl is someone your daughter thought was a friend. Your daughter may be part of a group that now has become a clique and the girls in it are no longer true friends but frenemies instead. This can be very hard though. It is tough to change a group of friends and initially things may become more difficult as they group realises they are leaving.
- “Focus on school.” It is easy for kids to allow what others say and do to impact their everyday lives. And often the first thing that is impacted is their schoolwork. Help your daughter change her focus. Monitoring cell phone and computer use is a good place to start. But don’t prevent your daughter from using these means of communication. Instead encourage her to spend less time on social media.
- “Find healthy ways of coping.” Let your daughter know that what she is going through is hard and that she shouldn’t try to handle it on her own. Help her by being willing to listen to her without judging or trying to fix things. Let her know that you are a safe person to talk to. And if she doesn’t want to talk to you, help her find someone she can talk to.
Keep a watch on the online activities of your kids: As mentioned earlier this is a context in which a lot of Mean Girl activity can happen. As a parent you can’t control what happens at school but you have the ability to put boundaries around your child’s access to the internet if that is impacting them.
Create Opportunities for them to meet lots of other like-minded kids outside of school. Sports can be great but there are plenty of clubs and activities your child could do that will help them connect with good people.
And don’t worry … we will talk about boys too haha
THIS IS A RELEVANT SIDE NOTE
I wanted to let you all know that in 11 days … starting the 26th of May I will be participating in a week Parenting Girls course with one of my favourite parenting educations Michael Grose from Parenting Ideas.
I will be setting up a private Facebook group for any School Mums participating in this course so we can talk about some of the key topics and issues together as we are going through the course. It is only $67 total to participate in the course and the key topics they are addressing are:
- Understanding the psychology of girls
- Helping girls understand their feelings and emotions
- What she needs to be brave in challenging situations
- Helping girls to develop a foundation of strong self-esteem
- Developing healthy relationships: making and maintaining friendships and what to do when friendships don’t work out
- Sexualisation and how to develop a positive, healthy body image
- Developing good mental health habits
- Navigating the online world and technology
- How to be the mum and dad that girls need
I am really looking forward to this and think it will be a great help for me personally raising 2 girls who are currently 9 and 7. I know I need all the help I can get moving into those next years. The course content is relevant for parents with girls aged between 3-15 and you can find out more about it here … I am able to track our School Mum participants as long as you sign up via this link and you will be invited to join our own private School Mum Facebook group which Michael will be personally popping into for the duration of the course.
We researched this topic and this article is a culmination of our thoughts experience and information gathered from these sources: