Mean Girl Bullying: No Laughing Matter
Thanks to the 2004 movie starring Lindsay Lohan, the phrase “mean girls” has become a common term for popular girls who ruthlessly rule their schools. The movie offers a humorous yet critical look at the challenges girls face when trying to fit in with their peers and build genuine friendships.
The pressure on girls to act, look, and dress a certain way has been a standard theme in movies for decades, including Grease, Heathers, and The Duff. Pop culture is full of mixed messages, encouraging girls to be true to themselves while regularly transforming the main character’s appearance through a major makeover. Learning about the many types of bullying girls experience today can help families take their first steps toward prevention.
What Is Bullying Like for Girls?
In the real world, girls don’t have to be part of an elite clique to engage in mean girl behavior. Any girl can use bullying as a way to feel in control, gain attention, or appear important. Unlike boys, who tend to use physical intimidation to bully, girls typically use attitude, words, and exclusion. More and more, bullying takes place not in person, but rather on social media and through email and texting, so even parents of online students need to be on the lookout. Read more to learn about how to deal with cyberbullying and bullying in schools.
As National Bullying Prevention Month wraps up, let’s examine some of the ways that girls bully other girls. Common types of bullying in girls and young women often include:
- Teasing or making nasty comments directly to other girls
- Gossiping and spreading rumors behind girls’ backs
- Intentionally leaving out girls from conversations or activities
- Setting rigid rules for being part of a group, such as forbidding friends from socializing with other girls
- Writing mean notes, text messages, or social media posts/comments
- Sharing embarrassing photos or secrets to humiliate girls
- Pitting friends against each other
- Urging others to be mean to or gang up on someone
Why Does Bullying Happen to Girls?
Here are some of the common reasons that girls get bullied:
- Appearance, including weight or changes associated with puberty
- Illness, food allergies, or disabilities
- Rumors of sexual activity or inexperience
- Sexual orientation (real or assumed)
- Clothing or other possessions
- Family’s financial status
- New at school or not many friends
- Being “different” or “weak” in some perceived way
When a girl judges and undermines other girls, it may be a sign that she is coping with self-confidence issues, experimenting with a growing sense of her own power, or pushing against expectations that she be sugary sweet. She might be experiencing all three.
Mean girls may be funny in movies, but bullying is a serious problem. Girls who are targeted may struggle in school, grow depressed, and even harm themselves. Even popular girls can be snubbed or feel shame and guilt.
Girl-Focused Resources for How to Handle Bullying
New Moon Girls, an online community and girl-edited magazine, has this to say: “Bombarded by ‘perfect girl’ stereotypes and hypersexualized images, girls try to cope by taking their authentic voices underground and setting aside their earlier ambitions. In order to survive these pressures, they lose touch with themselves.”
Founder Nancy Gruver adds, “But there is hope! Research shows that girls can use emotional support, self-expression, and healthy resistance to stay deeply connected to their true interests, abilities, and hopes.”
The Girl Scouts website offers excellent resources for girls and their families to deal with bullying. Here are a few tips for parents:
- Be a kindness role model: Girls learn how to be kind at home, so show them how to speak with compassion, demonstrate caring through their actions, and treat others with respect.
- Boost girls’ confidence: Help girls dream big and believe in themselves by praising their skills and insights. Make sure girls know that there is so much more to them than their appearance.
- Teach girls about friendship: Not all girls “click” with each other, so help girls seek out friends who share their interests, and teach them how to handle social disappointments with grace.
- Help girls stand up for themselves: Encourage girls not to trade insults with bullies and instead communicate their feelings. If bullying or cyberbullying escalates, then it is time for an adult to step in.
- Stay alert: Pay attention to possible signs of bullying, including loss of interest in school activities and not wanting to ride the bus. Make sure girls know that they have someone they can talk to who will really listen to them.
The girlshealth.gov website also provides helpful information on bullying and cliques.
Parents and other caregivers should remember that girls are learning and practicing behaviors that they will take into adulthood. Channeling girls’ energy into actions that will serve them in the long term is crucial.
Girls and adults might have a good laugh at the nasty girls portrayed in movies, but these characters reflect what is happening in real life. Girls are bullying and shunning other girls, sometimes causing them serious distress. With good role models, it is possible for girls to respect themselves and treat each other with respect.
Hopefully one day the phrase “mean girls” will be meaningless.
To learn how you can be more involved in your children’s education and enjoy opportunities to help them build character and develop self-esteem, visit the website for Connections Academy online public school. Or to learn about online private school, visit International Connections Academy’s website.