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Moms Talk: Mean Girls or Sour Grapes?

A line from the comedy film of the same name sums it up: “She’s fabulous, but she’s evil.” In this week’s Moms Talk we discuss mean girls, share our own experiences with them and dish out some tips for coping with them.

Earlier this week my preteen daughter had an experience at school that prompted me to post the Facebook status, “Mean girls suck.”

I got an overwhelming response from mom friends and older girls who have been through the mean girl circus and made it out alive. It seems that almost every female I know has experienced shabby treatment from her female peers at some point in her life, and it makes me really sad that it’s accepted as "just a part of life."

I certainly had my share of dealings with mean girls at her age. The one that jumps to the front of my mind just about every time I think about this subject is this one:

I was 11 years old. I started school young, so I was a year younger than the other girls in my class. This meant I was way behind them physically.

You remember how it was. You’re hyper-aware of your body, and every little thing about it is embarrassing to you. My friends had boobs. I didn’t. I wanted boobs more than anything in the world, and my flat chest was the bane of my existence that year (it would later become my nose, and then the little space between my front teeth). 

I was sitting in the junior high cafeteria when a girl who was kind of the rock star of the group (and coincidentally in possession of serious boobage), asked me if I wanted her mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes. I shrugged and said, “sure.”

Then she looked at me and said, her voice rising at least 300 decibels in order to be heard by every boy in the room, “Well, you can’t have them, flatty.”

Twenty-one years later, I can still remember the humiliation I felt as all those eyes focused on my chest and laughter erupted across the room. And, to this day, I wonder what made her do that to me. Why did she feel the need to hurt me? 

I’m not claiming that my child is perfect (just practically perfect), but for the most part, she’s a friendly, slightly nuts, witty and peaceful kid. She likes people, and she’s compassionate. She goes out of her way to soothe hurt feelings, and she's known for giving inspiring pep talks to friends.

Those are wonderful characteristics to have, right? But, it seems those are also the characteristics that mean girls prey upon.

After talking to my friends and their daughters, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re sensitive, you’re gonna get it. Maybe the mean girls like to get a rise out of their victims, and those delicate-souled girls give the best reactions.

I don’t think we’ll ever really understand why young girls feel better about themselves when they make another girl miserable. All I know is I found myself searching for the right words to say to my daughter to make it all better. And, it was hard.

There is nothing in this world more horrible than seeing your child hurt and having no power to fix it.

If you have a young daughter, you’re most likely very familiar with the experience I’m describing.

I took it upon myself to turn to the trusty Internet and perform some searches to see what I could come up with. Mean girls are so very prevalent in our society (Tina Fey didn’t write a movie about ‘em for nothing) that I felt sure I could find some sites dedicated to dealing with that particular form of bullying.

The search words “dealing with mean girls” brought up nearly four million results.

I spent a good amount of time perusing some of those hits and looking for the most comprehensive, yet succinct, tips I could find. I like this list by Denise Witmer, author and adolescent specialist, best.

Top Five Tips for Dealing with Mean Girls:

  • Learn to communicate with your daughter. Keeping the lines of communication open will keep you in the loop and help her feel like she is not alone. This is very valuable to a teen who has to deal with mean girls.
  • Be considerate of her needs. She may just need your moral support or she may need you to step in. Either way she will need you to be on her side.
  • Encourage your daughter to find friends that help build her self esteem. They are worth her time and effort in friendship. The more she is connected to these type of peers, the less the mean girls can do to her self-confidence.
  • Pay attention to how she is feeling. Be on the lookout for signs of depression. If you feel she isbecoming depressed, have her see a school or private counselor.
  • Model appropriate behavior at home. Avoid buying into gossip or saying mean things about other people. Take on activities that make you feel good about yourself. Lead your teen by example.

Did you experience mean girls when you were younger? How did it make you feel, and how has your perspective changed now that you’re an adult? Is your daughter being bullied by mean girls? How are you teaching her to deal with them? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

And, as you and your daugthers go out into the world, always remember this wise saying my wonderful family member Amy reminded me of this week: "Birds always peck at the best fruit."

Joy L. Woodson January 27, 2012 at 04:03 PM
I ran up on a lot of these girls in school. Probably why I don't have many girlfriends to this day. For the most part, girls were petty and annoying and mean. I was, like, the nicest girl ever, and there was something wrong with that. Those mean girls grew up to be mean, stuck-up adults, and I still don't want to deal with them. I ignored them back in the day, and I still ignore them. Great column, Raven!
Heidi January 27, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Great column! I was the victim of the mean girls in middle school. I wish I could have told myself it would be ok, that those girls really didn't matter. It hurt so much back then. I grew out if it but I am still more introverted than I would like. But I'm good with how I am now. My daughter is much more comfortable with herself than I was at that age...
Agnes Nutter January 27, 2012 at 04:26 PM
I went to middle school and junior high in two different cities, and yet at both schools I was the target of purely hateful vitriol from the clique of popular girls (and their boy hanger-ons). To this day I am mystified why this group who seemed to have it all would waste their time and energy trying to make the life of one goofy, friendly, bookish wallflower miserable. Of course I got the typical line from my mom, "They're just jealous," but that never rang true. Jealous of what, exactly? They were prettier, more popular, wealthier, had their fair share of smarts, and certainly never seemed to envy anything I had, ever. And I wasn't the histrionic girl who swooned every time someone looked at her cross-eyed. I was pretty chill, didn't hold grudges, and just wanted everyone else to be chill too. So, what satisfaction did these little sociopaths get out of trying to torment me? Taunting me for trying out for the gymnastic team and not getting picked. Threatening the president of the PTA not to pick me as the lead for the school play or they would all refuse to participate and their families wouldn't donate to the fundraiser. When I stood up for one of my friends against a bully and got punched in the face, these are the girls who laughed and danced in the halls, celebrating that I got "beat up." That kind of hatefulness just baffles me, not because it's wrong, but because it's such a waste of energy. If you figure out the answer, let me know.
Go Go January 27, 2012 at 04:34 PM
These girls don't want to deal with Sailor's grandmother. If it continues, I may intervene!
Joy L. Woodson January 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Hilarious! Go Go Grandma!
Michelle Gilliland January 27, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Oh, so many things to say. Mean girls do suck, that's for sure. My first instinct is that we should feel sorry for them because their home lives must also suck, but that is simply because I don't have a teenager. However, my first instinct in a few years might be that I want to slap them across their faces following their parents. Mean girls come from mean Moms. And it isn't necessarily the type of "mean" that first comes to mind. Moms that constantly nag at their daughters to do this or to that, or to not do this or not can manifest into a mean little girl. Those "cool" kids in school who seem to have everything, well, obviously, they do not. A tiny peek into their home lives reveal otherwise. It always does. Children are a reflection of who WE are, and it always seems as if they grab the worst and best parts of us. And I'll tell you, being a member of that lunchroom table and hearing the girl call Raven that name, well, it was traumatic. I don't think that any of us at the table actually laughed (because this girl was sorta mean to all of us all the time), but I do remember the situation quite vividly. I didn't remember that it was over mashed potatoes (although that is hilarious now considering how much mashed potatoes are coveted in your home), but I definitely remember the day. And I also want it noted that Raven was smokin' hot even with the nose, teeth, and boob situation. (still is!)
Margot Ashley January 27, 2012 at 05:14 PM
I like Taylor Swift's take on it: "Someday I'll be living in a big ol' city and all you're ever gonna be is mean."
T.Rawlins January 27, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Well said Michelle.You're right, mean girls grow up to be mean old cranky women.Sadly, the meanness then gets passed on to the next generation. The church is full of them on Sunday morning. Sometimes I think it's because they are truly trying to find good somewhere within themselves. Do they ever look around and wonder why nobody wants to sit on the same pew as them? People see through that temporary sweetness. My mom always told me, when someone is mean and cranky, that it's more about what's going on inside of them rather than you.
Tammy Haney January 27, 2012 at 09:26 PM
As I've always said, it starts somewhere and it is at home. No one is born just plain ol' mean, they apparently have a mean mama, like Michelle stated. It really saddens me to know these girls are wasting their precious years in life mistreated others. How hard is it to mind your own business and be kind to one another? Seriously, a little act of kindness can go a long way. Even if you don't particularly like someone it is okay, just stay away from them, instead of causing them anguish. Always remember, "people throw rocks at things that shine." Sailor shines and I imagine her mama did, too. Wish I could of sat at that table years ago, Ms. Top Heavy would of been enjoying some mashed potatoes... Right on top of her head! I've never been in trouble before, but that day I probably would of been. She would of got what she deserved. To all the mean girls, you are just hurting yourselves, because what goes around comes around!
Cathy Henry January 27, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Just reading this column and all of the comments makes me really sad and mad! I experienced mean girls myself and then went through it with both of my girls. Now I am upset that my grandaughter is haveing to deal with it! Like Raven said, it is so hard to see your child hurt and not be able to fix it. Now granted I tried a few times! I still have a hard time seeing these girls that I know caused my girl's so much hurt. It's even harder when I see there mom's. I have been known to give some really mean looks - only because I was forbidden to say anything. I agree that it's not right that our standard answer is "we've all been through it". I told Sailor last weekend that she should just keep being who she is and be proud of herself. Those girls are not happy so they don't won't others to be happy either.
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Now I know how you felt, Mama. I have to say, knowing you as well as I do, I'm surprised you never gave in and knocked some mean girl heads together! Your restraint is impressive.
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 10:52 PM
You're right, Tammy. If you don't like 'em, why not just leave them alone? Like the Tootsie Pop mystery, it may just be something the world will never know.
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 10:53 PM
We play that song a lot around here, Margot!
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Heh, thanks. I do actually feel sorry for some of those girls. I wonder what must be going on in their lives to cause them to treat others so poorly. But any compassion I may feel for them flies right out the window if they target my baby. rawr And yes, mashed potatoes.rock. Always have, always will.
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Get 'em, Go!
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 11:03 PM
I'm sorry you had to deal with that foolishness. I have to agree with your mom on that one. They may have had some things going for them, but you have a certain je ne sais quoi that is enviable. I, myself, envy it. But rather than persecute you for it, I choose to consider myself lucky to have such a beautiful, intelligent, witty friend to contact in moments both foul and fair.
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 11:05 PM
I think it's just one of those things, Heidi, that gains perspective over time. We all know that those girls play an almost nonexistant role in our adult lives, but for a child who is living with it as her every day experience, it's hard to think long term.
Raven Nichols January 27, 2012 at 11:06 PM
That's what I tell Sailor, Joy. Just ignore 'em! I don't have a lot of girlfriends either. But the ones I do have are more precious to me than gold. And they always take the time to comment on my articles. :)
Heather April 07, 2012 at 09:37 AM
Fantastic article!!!! My daughter is 8 and a competive dancer. There is one girl who is mean to her and my daughter does not back down. The mean girls mom believes her daughter is not the mean girl and that my daughter is! So now she had a sleepover at her house and invited the team and not my daughter!!!! To make it worse one of the moms who I thought was my friend let her daughter go and said nothing to defend my child! I am super upset and extremely hurt!
Raven Nichols April 07, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Heather, I'm sorry to hear you're dealing not only with mean girls but also mean moms!

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