Tips for Dealing with Mean Girls

A little while ago, I was in line at somewhere at the mall and overheard the conversation of a group of teenage girls. I tried not to eavesdrop but I couldn’t help but hear all of the subtle digs and hurtful “jokes”. I’d forgotten how mean teenagers can be.

I feel like with all the buzz lately on “bullying” and “cyber-bullying” {ugh I hate the prefix ‘cyber’ and the word ‘bullying’}, a lot of us are overlooking the everyday meanness that happens in real life.

I want to get something straight. Bullying isn’t the same as girls just being mean. At least not in my book.

In the dictionary, a bully is defined as {and I quote:} “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people”.

I think that most mean girls are just regular girls who at one time or another {however often} sacrifice the feelings of one for acceptance from the whole. This doesn’t make them serial bullies. {usually}. It makes them insecure individuals trying to find their place in the world. It makes them teenagers. A teenager isn’t a bully because she makes mistakes. The problem arises when several kids are making the same mistakes, in the same place, all at once.

I think once a standard of mocking and malicious teasing is set, teenagers think they have to follow suit in order to be accepted. One girl makes a mean joke and everyone laughs along at the target’s expense, in order to avoid becoming the next target. The cycle is then perpetuated when they continue to avoid being the target by creating new targets by being even meaner. And then the cycle becomes nearly impossible to break. I’ve decided just now to call this “the cycle of mean.” What these kids don’t realize is that they don’t need to belittle others in order for other kids to like them. Most kids are more impressed by kindness than anything else. Well, the ones worth being friends with anyway.Through the years, I’ve found that these three principles are super effective in navigating the minefield that is adolescent meanness and coming through unscathed.

Refuse to be manipulated I feel like this is the number one tip to avoid perpetuating mean-ness. We all had that friend back in preschool who wanted to be your friend one day, and didn’t want to be your friend the next day. When I experienced this the first time, I came home crying to my mom, and she simply said “Whenever someone tells you they don’t want to be your friend anymore, they usually don’t mean it. Just say ‘Ok! come find me when we can be friends again!’ and then just go play with someone else.” The rest is pretty much history. At its core, this basic principle applies to teenagers and basically throughout the rest of life. If someone is messing with you, don’t allow it to affect you. Not only does refusing to let others have power over you empower you, it makes the offender feel less powerful. When a manipulator feels powerless, they eventually lose their will to manipulate.

Refuse to reinforce mean activity

I would say this is even more effective than actually speaking up and challenging an offender. When meanness is fueled by laughter or affirmation from others, the cycle is perpetuated. When meanness is greeted by wide-eyes and cricket-chirps, it not only halts the momentum of mean, but it embarrasses the aggressor. And if there is one thing teenagers/tweenagers can’t stand, it’s embarrassment. If, in that moment where laughter and encouragement for bad behavior normally take place, the offender is greeted with silence, they {if they have a conscience} will have a moment to be ashamed of having been mean, and they will think twice before doing it again. I’ve seen it happen. The less of a reaction the meanies get, the less they perform. No one likes to perform for a dud audience.

Refuse to instigate

I know this is totally obvious but when caught in the moment, it can be very easy to let the mean slip out. Don’t let it. Nothing you will ever say is funny or clever enough to merit hurting someone else’s feelings.

Being a teenager is tough. We’ve all been there. The more comfortable a teenager is with herself, the more she will feel comfortable being kind. And the kinder she is, the more she will inspire others to be kind. I’ve just decided to call this “The cycle of kindness”. Hopefully these tips can help your teenagers start the cycle!

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