What can parents do about mean girls?

April 22, 2015

53dc1054fab9d87a51e360ccThis began as a post about saying goodbye and then morphed into one about mean girls. I don’t think that’s an accident.

The stories in Dumped, Women Unfriending Women continue to swirl around in my head, along with so many questions that don’t have good answers.

When grown women are mean to one another, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of that and some of it surrounding that anthology, it’s often easy to identify defensiveness and damage as roots.

But then, there’s that silent thing. Nothing is said. Nothing. A friend just disappears into thin air without a trace. Not even a formal goodbye. Why do some women think it’s perfectly ok to leave a friend’s life without a word of explanation?

Are they afraid to have a conversation? Or a confrontation?

Is there no reason to work it out? Work through any issues?

Is it even ethical to leave a friendship that way?

I’ve left exactly two friendships when it became clear they were not friendships at all. One was when a friend used me (and I do mean “used” me) for financial gain. She was somewhat of a pathological liar, too, so there was no way I wanted to be in her sphere. The other was guilty of a betrayal of gigantic proportions, so big that I have no interest in that person at all. I wish both these women well, but I don’t need that kind of crazy in my life.  But in both of these cases I made very clear why I was leaving the friendship. I wasn’t going to disappear without a trace.

Even so, saying goodbye has always been difficult for me. I like to stay tethered to the people I’ve known and loved, men and women. Because if there was once  a reason I cared, that reason still exists over time and space and age.

Goodbye’s not the only thing that’s difficult for me. So is being a “mean girl.”  I can’t do it. It’s not me.

When I look at the mean behavior of grown women, I have to wonder: does it go back further?

Where do little girls learn to be so mean to each other? And what can parents do about it?

This behavior was clear in my own family. Excuses were made.  One of my relatives has spread harmful and untrue gossip about someone else. Those of us who see her for the mean girl she has always been steer clear. We might bless her first, but we do steer clear. When I was visiting my hometown late last year that person–now in her 70s!– was in the same restaurant I was. I made sure she didn’t notice me.  Another relative is just flat mean and has been consistently this way for decades. Excuses were made. No one called her on her behavior. She is pushing 60 and still that way.  Both very sad women.

In a super-extreme case I’ve blogged about, two teenage girls actually killed another friend.  As incredible as it may seem, these things happen.

But the roots of mean girl behavior must run deep.

There must be something parents notice early on. Is there?

I’m interested in hearing from moms and dads about this subject and what they have experienced as parents observing the behavior of their own daughters and their friends.

Would you weigh in? Thank you.

32 comments on “What can parents do about mean girls?
  1. Karen says:

    I don’t have answers, Carol–I have many, many questions, but no answers. I’ve been on the receiving end of “mean girl” behaviour, but to my knowledge, I’ve never done it to anyone else. I’m more direct than that: if I’m annoyed, the person who annoyed me will definitely know it, and know why.

  2. There was one friendship I meant to ease myself over time, but was pushed and bullied by this woman and her ‘gang’ to say why I wasn’t meeting them. I didn’t see the sense in talking things out with this person immediately. When I didn’t meet her, she blocked me! The funniest is part is that one of her crowd who also blocked me on Facebook continue to contact me to fix her blog, etc. Would you believe that I actually did it!

    I can completely identify with family tolerating meanness, Carol. I’ve found that when I protest, I’m the odd one out.

    • It makes me wonder, Corinne, how much a fantasy we have in our heads about the way others’ lives are, thinking our own are so imperfect. EVeryone faces this stuff! Well, not everyone, but most.

  3. Sandy says:

    This is a tough one. I have always told my girls to treat others the way they want to be treated. That sometimes other girls may be mean to them, but to remember that there is nothing wrong with them, that it is the other person. Maybe they are having a bad day, or maybe they are sad or angry about something, who knows. I’ve experienced this in high school and it’s tough. As an adult we are better equipped to ignore, move on or to deal with it head on, much more than young girls are.

  4. I have never understood or had any patience for mean girls, and I do think it’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure their daughter doesn’t turn into one.

  5. Growing up in an all male house (except my introverted mother) I have always been mystified by this behavior. I have seen it in girl and woman forms and neither are pretty but often when you see a mean girl she has a mean mom. It is, I believe, passed on much like a set of pearls or belonging to the same sorority. I also believe that what is being passed on is a low self-esteem still no excuse though.

  6. K. Lee Banks says:

    Thought-provoking and disturbing at the same time. I’ve also had women just turn on me and/or disappear, for no apparent logical reason; and for my own sanity and well-being, as you said, I’ve had to distance myself from others.

    I think it’s quite revealing and alarming that our society continues to see an increase in the “mean girls” who bully and attack others – and then the horrific actions that take place, such as the “Slender Man” case. And then Hollywood even created a show called “Mean Girls” that seems to glamorize the idea…


  7. Unfortunately there are several mean girls at my daughter’s school and I’m not sure how this happens either. To be honest, the moms seem like very nice women and I’m not sure why these girls act the way they do. It’s very sad.

  8. WendysHat says:

    I don’t understand that mentality. I’ve always followed the golden rule of “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You”. All I can do is follow that rule and be a good example and tell my daughters that being MEAN is NOT ok. I don’t have time or would want to waste any energy on negative behavior myself. Sad for those who think it’s ok to be a mean girl and for the parents who allowed it to happen.

  9. Thich Nhat Han invites me to feel compassion for mean people by seeing them as suffering. But some people are just plain psychotic, and I don’t want to stick around for the abuse. I tend to err on the side of avoiding the meanies. God bless us all in trying to figure our who can be healed to have more healthy behavior and who is just plain wacko.

  10. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says:

    This makes me happy that I have all boys. It’s scary how some kids act these days.

  11. I believe that “Mean Girl” mentality can crossover generations. I am of the persuasion to just walk away and spend valuable time with genuine women.

  12. Britney says:

    I think girls learn a lot from there mom’s, our kids are always watching us and what we are doing. Also they learn a lot from other girls too.

  13. In my experience with three daughters and their friends (and four sisters), it seems every adolescent girl tries on the “mean girl” hat, to some degree. Thankfully most of them decide it doesn’t fit and move on to better, more compassionate personas.

  14. Having a daughter, this is something I worry about. I don’t want her to go through dealing with the mean girls or bullies like I did. On the other side, I want to raise her to not be one of the mean girls.

  15. Liz Mays says:

    Honestly, I really believe mean girl behavior and bully behavior comes from within the home. Someone is bullying that child and they’re repeating what they know.

  16. Jennifer says:

    I don’t understand the mentality! It’s like these women never grew up and became decent human beings! I was dumped last year by a “good” girlfriend for no apparent reason. I suspect the young girls learn the behavious as victims of it themselves. but as adults they should grow out of it!

  17. Keriann McKenna says:

    I have to wonder if it comes from a sense of entitlement so many young people have today. Kids want what they want, when they want it, and they usually get it…and if they don’t, they get mean.

    I’ve said it before, I don’t think we take the time to teach our young people how to communicate with one another. We don’t teach our kids how to express their feeling at a young age. So, when someone is really feeling ‘you really hurt my feelings’ it goes unspoken. Instead, ‘you can’t be my friend anymore and I’m going to tell me friends not to be your friend anymore’ is the response.

    We have little ones and can’t wait until they can talk. Talking is one thing; communicating is quite another. And, after they learn how to talk, we would all do well to teach them how to actively listen. I truly believe if feelings first (a method of communicating) and active listening were taught in school it would make a world of difference. A list of feeling words should be hanging in every classroom. I use this example: everyone knows the feeling of anger and feeling anger is valid. But, anger is a dirty blanket that covers a long list of feelings that we, and especially young kids, rarely examine: frustrated, betrayed, alone, inferior, useless, stupid, ashamed…and this list goes on and on. If we can’t identify these feelings we just stay mad and mad people can get real mean.

    Still, when we learn how to communicate we will inevitably run into someone who cannot and that person will unfriend you, block you, say mean things to you, spread gossip and occasionally worse, ending with physical violence.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  18. Jeanine says:

    Oh mean girls. I do not have time for mean girls. In my life or my kids. I’ve taught my daughters to just rise above it all. They are homeschooled for now, but once they go back I’m sure we will deal with this plenty!

  19. Shonda says:

    I am very transparent with my relationships. I am not one for going around the cherry bush, hence the mean girl attitude is just not for me. However, I have been on the receiving end of mean girls. Like you, I put them on my “steer clear” radar. There isn’t much space in my life for unnecessary drama.

  20. I don’t understand the “mean girl” behavior. I also have a family member who is just plain mean. She was mean as a child and is now an angry, mean adult. Needless to say, she has few friends but she just doesn’t get why. I’ve chosen to break off ties because of her toxic behavior. I think it begins in childhood. Parents don’t correct it for whatever reason and it becomes accepted and excused.

  21. Truly I don’t think it’s mean girl, I think its mean people. And meanness scares me to my core because it has at its heart a totally uncaring attitude.

  22. Insecurity stinks. Girls or grown girls that have insecurities feel they need to bring you down to make themselves look or feel better. It is sad but true. I have had few true friendships in my life. I am stand offish and a little socially awkward. If we mesh we mesh if we don’t whatever. So with true friendships people don’t just leave and fall out of touch.

    Goodbye sucks but often times there is a new hello right around the corner.

  23. Carolann says:

    It’s so troubling to me when I see girls or grown women being mean to each other. I could never understand it for the life of me. You raise great points…too bad it seems they will never learn.

  24. I always believe in treating people with kindness even when they are mean. It is the hardest thing to stay mean at a person who is always nice. But then they are those days when you need to give mean girls a dose of their own medicine.

  25. I can say I was sometimes bullied in school but I always stayed the same! Neutral and friendly towards everyone. As I’ve grown up, I’ve kept the same attitude towards anyone no matter what. Basically I will become friends with everyone unless a friendship with the plerson would be toxic to my life.

  26. Holly says:

    Now that I have a young girl, I am really starting to think about these issues.

  27. Touch subject. As long as we can try and correct our kids, when it comes to their friends this isn’t always welcome 🙁

  28. arifa nasrin says:

    Now that I have a young girl, I am really starting to think about these issues.

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