mean girls…

Mean Girls…

One of the things I’ve looked forward to least in parenting girls is reliving through them the bizarre social experience that involves how some girls relate to each other.

I was tortured as an elementary school kid and even more so in junior high school, but a lot of it, I assumed, was partly my fault. Not only was I chubby, had frizzy hair, braces and glasses, but I also had an idea about what I liked to wear and only wanted to wear dresses (Little House on the Prairie styled, preferably) when the other cooler girls were wearing Dittos and Chemin De Fers with their hair sprayed and feathered.

I didn’t fit in, I read obsessively, was horrible at sports, and was fairly sheltered in a school filled with kids from the nearby marine base. I was easy fodder.

But by the time I hit sixth grade, I knew I wanted to be a cool kid (much to my parents and teachers’ dismay) and subjected myself to torture and taunts and ridiculous emotional pushing and pulling in order to be part of the club that made up dances to rockabilly songs and wore jelly shoes and beads.

And worse, I threw away my good friends to do it. I left them at recess to hang out at the monkey bars and talk about which boys were cute and to laugh at the fact that so and so wore a bra already (we all did, but didn’t need to). We were mean. And we took turns being mean to each other. And the sickest thing was that even though it felt so crappy to have the whole crowd torturing you, when they decided that you were once again okay and it was someone else’s turn, all of us were more than relieved to join in. Revenge through retribution. It was a painful way to live. I could never be honest with my friends, never had anyone to confide in and didn’t trust anyone. I hated myself and I hated them.

I had very few girlfriends after that until college because it took me that long to actually trust women.

I wonder if there’s a way to keep my daughters from all of this. So far, it hasn’t been possible. The girls like to play their games on each other…  They tease and torture each other and try out their powers. And even though the recent NY Times article seemed to express surprise that girls do this by elementary school, I know that it begins even in preschool.

We are careful parents, though I like to think we’re not too helicopter-y. We monitor screen time, what programs our children watch on TV and what popular culture they’re exposed to. I know we can’t protect them completely, but I hope that through some monitoring, they will be less exposed to a culture that thrives on competition and superficiality and more exposed to basic values.

That said, there is something about nature that needs to be tamed, I think. Last week my older daughter came home upset because she’d participated in teasing a friend at school. I was relieved that she felt bad enough to tell me about it and was open to calling the friend at home and apologizing for not only for teasing her, but also for not sticking up for her. I felt like a pushy parent, but when she hung up, she cried because she also knew how it felt to be at the teasing end of the cycle.

It gave me hope. At least she’s recognizing what her actions did. And she connected it to how badly she’d felt when it was done to her. Empathy. I know it’s only going to get harder, but at least we’re at a starting point.

I know it’s impossible and ridiculous to correct your own mistakes through your kids, but this one is important. It’s a life lesson that people carry with them throughout their lives and then keeps popping up everywhere—in the debates between working moms or SAHM moms, when drawing up bday party lists,  in the workplace or on school committees. Nobody should have to feel bad about being themselves.

After a particularly good playdate with a girl she really enjoyed, my girl told me that her friend made her feel like she was someone she wanted to play with, too.

It seems like a good rule to live by.


  1. Amy,
    So identify with your article. For me the mean girl thing started in 4th grade which seems so young now in retrospect, but it was so real and so scary at the time.

    My daughter is only 3 but I’m thinking about this already. A friend recommended this book on the topic: Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence

    • Oooh, I’ve heard about that book and will take a look. It is scary. And I think the scariest thing is that so many people have experienced it and it still happens.

    • Hey Michelle,
      Thanks for your comment… I am actually thinking that although appalling, I know that this is starting to show in my 4 year old’s preschool class and it definitely reared it’s ugly head in my older daughter’s preschool class as well. Am definitely looking up your book suggestions. I need to be armed and prepared! 😉 -Amy

  2. Amy- such a timely post.
    I’d highly recommend you pick up the first of two books by a good friend. Rachel Simmons is at the forefront of the anti bullying, girl coaching movement. Go and get Odd Girl Out. On another note and not intended to self promote, Rachel is coming to Seattle end of Apr for a truly incredible mother/daughter weekend with her girls leadership institute. I’m taking Sophie, age 10.5 and know this isn’t your mother’s weekend seminar. Check her out and let me know if you’re interested in attending.
    Oh and I’m thrilled to let you know that Rachel is currently developing curricula for young girls. She totally gets that this crap starts literally in preschool at times.
    Good luck-

  3. I really don’t remember being THAT mean to people. I don’t remember my friends being that mean – and I do recall a few times walking away from them when they were mean.

    I must have not paid attention.

  4. Thank you for this post.

    As old as I am, it’s still “mean girls” around here, sometimes.

    I live in a small town, and the women still are doing what they’ve always done, and now they’ve taught their daughters to do it.

    Where is the world’s kindness? Why are children taught that?

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