October 3rd is just around the corner. That’s right; it’s almost Mean Girls Day! While my obsession with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may have something to do with my affinity for the movie, I still think the cult classic is one of the best depictions of how brutal high school can be. (As a life coach for teen girls, I’m also reminded of this weekly.)
Even though I can laugh at the movie now, suffering the likes of Regina George during adolescence was unbearable. And bullying is no laughing matter. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, 23% of female students report being bullied, and “students who experience bullying are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression.”
While I was never physically bullied in middle school, 6th and 7th grade were miserable because I was the victim of what’s now termed relational aggression. There were two ringleaders within a group of about ten girls who would routinely ask me to hang out. Sad thing was, they’d invite me to places and then wouldn’t show up, or everyone would hide while the mom would tell me no one was home. I could literally hear the gaggle of girls hissing at each other to be quiet and stifling their laughter from another room while she blocked the doorway. (Yes, these mothers were complicit with the behavior, which I have plenty to say about, but I’ll save that for another article.) Since this was pre-cellphones, my mom eventually got used to dropping me off and then waiting down the street so she could drive by again a few minutes later, generally to find me sitting alone outside, crying on the stoop.
It was AWFUL. There’s no other way to put it. But did I still try hanging out with them? Yes. Did any other girls come to my defense? Nope. Did I ever confront them personally to let them know how much they were hurting my feelings? I wouldn’t dare. And mind you, this was before the age of social media, which now announces to the world who is included and who isn’t—it’s essentially social exclusion on steroids.
My mom always told me things would get better, and they did. But those words didn’t matter at the time; in fact, nothing really made me feel better until I eventually moved on and found friends who actually treated me like one. Upon entering high school, those girls were suddenly small fish in a big pond who weren’t worth my time or energy. Looking back now, I can see that they were possibly jealous of me, or at a bare minimum, highly insecure, and looking for a scapegoat to help them feel bigger while solidifying their social status.
Regardless, here is what I wish I’d known then and what I regularly tell my teen clients now who are suffering at the hands of mean girls. Regina George, be damned!
Cliques are, unfortunately, a by-product of teenage brain development.
As teens seek to develop their identities and establish independence from their parents—two critical milestones of adolescence—they experiment with who they are and who they want to spend time with. It doesn’t make cruel behavior acceptable, but it partially explains why middle school girls dump girlfriends as often as Leonardo DiCaprio.
Focus on friends who make you feel good. For brain development purposes, adolescents are trying to find their new squad as they leave their families and enter adulthood. But with squads comes significantly more drama. So if your daughter is obsessed with being part of a group (which is totally normal), it’s also important for her to have even just one or two friends who can be her “people.” While those friends may not be as popular as the girls she’s trying to fit in with, these are the girls she can truly be herself with, have fun with, and rely on, which helps a lot when times get rough.
It’s so much easier to be nice than it is to be mean.
While it may feel better to fight fire with fire in the heat of the moment, dealing with fall out of hurling nasty comments back and forth (especially if those are public online) or regretting how you acted drains so much more emotional energy than simply being nice, or at least plain neutral, and moving on. I suggest following Gloria Steinem’s advice for when someone calls you something mean: smile, say thank you, and walk away. It’s so confusing that that mean girl’s pretty little head might explore.
Letting others decide if you’re likable gives all your power away.
In the famous words of Dita Von Teese, “you can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” Truly. You can spend your entire life trying to make other people like you, and they may never come around. It’s a losing battle because it gives all of your power away to other people to determine your worthiness. It’s why helping girls build self-esteem during adolescence is crucial to living a happier life—the more you can validate yourself, the less likely you spend your life seeking validation and approval from others.
Karma is a biatch.
Girls always laugh at this one, but I’ve found it to be profoundly true. I’m a firm believer in Madeleine Albright’s saying that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Be good to yourself and others, and it will come back to you tenfold.