Monday, November 9, 2015

minimizing mean girl-ery

I was standing in line at h&m the other day behind a group of 4 teenage girls. 2 of the girls shared a secret with one another and deliberately, emphatically left out one of the other girls. I think her name was carly or something. The other girl ambivalently kind of ignored them, while the girl who i can only assume was carly looked wounded for an instant, then brushed it off and giggled nervously, as if she was in on this "exclude carly" thing like it was some kind of joke. except it wasn't a joke. It was the age old game of girls being mean to other girls, for what seems to be no reason.

The middle-aged woman behind me in the line and i looked at each other, when i said {probably a little too loudly} "ugh. i hated being teenager. girls are so mean." ambivalent girl looked at me, gave me a passive look, and followed the other three out of the store for what would probably be a very calculated and unpleasant afternoon.

what i told the woman in line was only half true. i'd said it to make a point in the only way i knew how. yes, girls are so mean. but i didn't hate being a teenager, because i was blessed with probably the only nice teenage girls on the planet for my friends. {with the exception of one girl who seemed to believe it was her life's work and purpose to make me feel terrible about myself}, my high school years were virtually mean girl free. but one mean girl was enough for me to know how they work, and how to let it not affect me or my self-worth.

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 girl isn't a bully because she makes mistakes. the problem arises when several girls are making the same mistakes, in the same place, all at once.

i think once a standard of mocking and malicious teasing is set, girls think they have to follow suit in order to stay alive. 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 girls continue to avoid being the target by creating new targets by being even meaner. and then the cycle becomes impossible to break. i've decided just now to call this "the cycle of mean." what these girls don't realize is that they don't need to belittle some girls in order for other girls to like them. most girls are more impressed by kindness than anything else. well, the girls worth being friends with anyway.

when i was pregnant with bea, i was thrilled to discover i was having a girl, but at the same time i dreaded that day when she would have her first taste of mean girl-ery. while i managed to escape adolescence mostly unscathed, i fell witness to some nasty antics performed at the expense of my little sister. i know how awful it can be. i've tried to pull from my memory the methods employed in my own experience and my experiences with my friends to minimize the mean in our lives and i have some thoughts and i guess what i would consider tips...? {i don't consider myself a sage or anything so i'm not sure if i'm qualified to tip, but. anyway.} i'll be sharing these with bea when she enters the world of little girls.

refuse to be manipulated
i feel like this is the number one tip to avoid mean girl-ery. when i was in preschool, i came home one day almost in tears and explained to my mother that some girl i was friends with {whom i no longer remember} had decided and told me, completely out of the blue, that she no longer wanted to "be my friend anymore", as preschool girls do. my mom offered me the best advice she's ever given me that day. she said something along the lines of, "Caity, 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. i avoided 100% of elementary school drama this way. i realize, this is preschool level advice. but the principle of refusing to be manipulated is timeless. if a girl 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 lessens the influence of the perpetrator on others, thus limiting the cycle of mean. 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 teenage/tweenage girls 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. 

i hope i can drill these principles into bea's head before she starts school. i hope every mother of every girl can instill similar ideas into their girls' heads someday. there's a quote by one of the leaders of my church that says: "When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!" one day, hopefully our girls can be part of the movement that says "stop it!" to the mean girls.

No comments:

Post a Comment