â€œFighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence,â€ edited by Meda Chesney-Lind and Nikki Jones, cites recent studies to show that violence by girls has decreased.Â In a New York Times article, â€œThe Myth of Mean Girls,â€ Mike Males and Meda Chesney-Lind also state that our common perception that there are mean girls and that girls can be violent, â€œis a hoax.â€
Well, that just gives new research studies a bad name, or at least those conclusions.Â As Mark Twain said, â€œThere are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.â€
In the real world, not the world inhabited by academics and researchers, mean girls thrive and their violence toward other girls is no only verbal and physical, itâ€™s now also done in cyberspace.Â If you track only physical violence on police blotters, you miss the other damage done by stealth bullying mean girls.
Ignore academic researchers.Â Remember your years in junior and senior high school, and in college?Â Havenâ€™t you also seen incidents of harassment, bullying and abuse by women against women in the workplace?Â Ask your daughters whatâ€™s happening now in their schools.Â Are their principals, teachers and staff protecting girls against mean girls?
Every woman whoâ€™s interviewed me on radio and television describes the mean girls they encountered when they were young â€¦ and also some they see in their adult personal lives as well as at work.Â A lot of my coaching is to teach women how to defend themselves against mean girls who now masquerade as adult friends or who are still mean in parent groups at schools, boards of housing associations, book clubs, neighborhood associations, church groups and as mothers protecting their mean daughters.
Think about the seven mean girls in Massachusetts involved in bullying Phoebe Prince into committing suicide or the nasty girls who attacked Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato when they were teenagers, or the six Florida girls who made a video of their attack on another girl and are now being tried as adults.Â CNN even reports, â€œThere’s at least one Web site devoted exclusively to videos of girls fighting.â€
Although physical violence might decrease as these mean girls became adults, they still form cliques, viciously cut-out their targets and relentlessly put down women they consider as rivals or simply weaklings.
Of course, mean girls can also encourage mean guys to be violent toward other girls and boys, and mean girls can also verbally destroy young boys.
So, as a parent, what can you do?
- Get active as a citizen.Â Organize a core group of active parents to pressure legislators to pass laws requiring schools to have policies and programs to stop bullying.Â Media pressure will help.
- Get active in your school and school district.Â Form a core group of active parents to make sure your district administrators and school principal actively enforce policies and a school-wide program to stop bullies.Â Involve all teachers, staff and students in recognizing and stopping the first signs of bullying.Â Immediate and firm action is necessary.Â If principals and teachers turn a blind eye, saying â€œthatâ€™s just the way some girls are,â€ theyâ€™re colluding by creating a safe space for mean girls and boundary pushers.Â The end of school and summer are great times to get these programs started so youâ€™re ready at the start of school in September.
- Prepare your daughters.Â Well-meaning parents are the number one risk factor for creating helpless girls whose confidence and self-esteem will be destroyed by mean girls.Â Donâ€™t tell your daughters to feel sorry for their abusers and to â€œrise aboveâ€ whatever these vicious predators say or do.Â Donâ€™t expect pious sentiments to prevent stress, anxiety, negative self-talk or depression.Â Donâ€™t let your daughters be whipping girls or scapegoats.Â Teach your daughters how to stop the mean girls.Â If you donâ€™t know how, you need coaching.
- Prepare your sons.Â Tell them about the real-world.Â Remind them that 10 years from now they probably wonâ€™t see any of the kids from high school.Â Teach them not to take the mean, nasty, vicious comments personally or as a prediction of the future.Â Their job is to grow up and find a woman who values and appreciates them.Â Mean girls donâ€™t represent everyone.
Of course, specific steps depend on your situation and the people involved.
Donâ€™t believe studies that supposedly prove that mean girls are an insignificant factor.Â Donâ€™t believe that if your daughter ignores their meanness or treats them with caring and friendship, theyâ€™ll stop being abusive.Â Real bullies, mean girls and mean women, take offerings of sweetness and friendship as weakness and an invitation to prey on you more.
As Azar Nafisi, author of â€œReading Lolita in Tehranâ€ and â€œThings Iâ€™ve Been Silent Aboutâ€ said, â€œMy parents did not bring me happiness.Â They armed me for the battle of life.â€
Are you arming your daughter to stop mean girls?
Resources Cited: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/02/opinion/02males.html?scp=1&sq=the%20myth%20of%20mean%20girls&st=cse and http://www.wftv.com/news/15845521/detail.html.
Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs â€œHow to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,â€ â€œParenting Bully-Proof Kidsâ€ and â€œEliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.â€ He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.Â To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).