Great attention is paid these days to the subject of “mean girls.” For moms raising daughters, it’s a hot topic, something that adults can get fired up about.
This can be particularly triggering for me as I have met my fair share of mean girls. When my daughter shared with me how she is spoken too by one girl in her group, mamma bear surfaced very quickly. I’ll go take care of it myself, teach that young lady, her mother and everyone a hard lesson. But we all know that won’t work and my reaction was not a healthy one, so I digress. My beautiful daughter taught me a lesson once again. She responds with kindness and uses her voice when she needs too. She is also learning just like all of us. But she gave a little lesson in humility that I needed. I am raising an includer.
People talk as if girls have the monopoly on being mean, but I hear stories about boys as well. Just led with a different lens. What we have is not a gender issue, but a societal issue. We live in a mean age. We have a culture shaping our children that is darker, more narcissistic, and less empathetic than the culture that shaped us. I have written about how this effects our boys and you can read that here.
Our children also see terrible role models in adults. When you see a lack of character in a company’s culture for example, you can safely assume the leaders lack character too.
The problem starts at the top and trickles down.
When you live in a world where grown-ups openly bash each other, it logically follows that children will too. How parents speak to one another in front of their kids sets the tone for their kids attitudes. Parents are the first teachers.
So, as we talk about mean girls, we need humility and rationale. We all have sinful natures and redeeming qualities. At the same time, the hurt that mean girls inflict is real, and as mothers, we’ve met our fair share of mean girls and mean women. We know to safeguard our hearts, but when a mean girl targets our daughters, it pains and worries us in entirely new ways.
So how do you discuss this subject? How do you help your daughter view hurtful people through a healthy lens? We all have room to improve, and we all can do our part to bring kindness back. Here are some talking points to help your daughter understand the excluders and avoid any urge to act like one herself.
The temptation is to revert to clichés. To tell her “girls are mean” and then fantasize about getting revenge. Before your mind goes there, consider an alternative. Change the conversation to instill hope and a sense of control.
Consider words like these:
I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s not right and it’s not fair, and you don’t deserve it.
Although you feel singled out, like you’re the only person to ever be treated this way, you’re not. Sadly, our world sets a low bar for how people should behave. Even at my age, people can be very mean and inconsiderate. Just last week someone made a rude remark that stayed in my head for days.
I can’t promise that you’ll never be hurt again – because you will be – but you can use this situation to your advantage. You can learn from it and become a better friend. The worst people provide the best examples of how not to act, and now that you’ve been targeted, you know to never repeat this mean behavior. This wisdom will take you far in life and lead to great relationships.
This may blow over with the person who hurt you, or it may not. Only time will tell. But for now, keep a safe distance and stick with the people who make you feel good. Take the high road and be kind, because kindness keeps you at peace with yourself. It always attracts the right kind of friends.
You can’t make them stop being mean. You can, however, empower yourself by refusing to pass on what they started. Go for kind and be the example that our world needs. Healing comes when you help others, when you turn your pain into a purpose by becoming the friend you wish you had right now.
The fact is girls need each other.
They are stronger together than apart,
especially as they learn to be encouragers.
Teach them to treasure the ones that build them up.
Today’s kids are being shaped by a world that is harsher and darker than the world that shaped us. Girls act mean because it gives them a sense of power and importance. T.S. Eliot said, “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm – but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” The reason why many girls act mean is because they’re looking out for themselves and microscopically focused on their life.
Most people are decent and want to do the right thing. But in any environment, you’ll have bad apples. You’ll have people who can mistreat others and not feel guilty because they don’t have God in their heart. Since God is love, it’s impossible to love apart from Him.
It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. It only takes 1 truly mean person – a ringleader – to turn a good thing around and ruin an environment for everyone.
When a group of girls gang up on an individual, it’s usually the ringleader who made the call. With a command like “Let’s leave her out” she can get everyone on board, often because her followers are too insecure to challenge her for fear of losing status or belonging in a group.
Sadly, targeting and uniting against 1 person is bonding for a group. It creates a common goal. Most kids and teens can’t think beyond a couple of years into the future, so give your daughter a long-term perspective. Remind her how her classmates will always remember the way she treats them. 30 years from now, when her name comes up in conversation, they’ll either remember her with a smile on their face or a pit in their stomach. They’ll either be so glad they knew her – or so glad they never have to see her again.
Anyone with a conscience will regret being the mean girl, but they’ll never regret being the kind one.
It’s also good to remember that some apologies will never come, and your daughter can’t hold her breath waiting for them to arrive. Some mean girls will never admit their mistakes. Instead, they grow up, get married, raise mean daughters and sons. It’s sad when the cycle repeats itself, but it happens.
What your daughter and her friends laugh about and bond over matters. Friendships that center around gossip, making fun of people, starting rumors, hating people, or blind obedience aren’t real friendships. They don’t last, and if they do, your daughter will constantly feel like she can’t leave the room for fear of being talked about. Real friends help your daughter become the best version of herself. They help her feel good – not by throwing dirt, but by building her up.
What comes out of a mean girl’s mouth reflects her heart. How she talks to others is how she talks to herself. Imagine living with negativity and a critical spirit. It is impossible to act mean and feel good because God designed us in His image. We’re made to reflect His goodness, and when we don’t, it stirs up discontent. A mean girl’s mind is a terrible place to be, and as your daughter imagines the thoughts and insecurities she probably wrestles with, she’ll start to understand why the hardest people to love are the ones who need love most.
Mean girls can make you bitter or better. Hurt people hurt people, and when your daughter gets targeted, she has a choice. She can let that hurt harden her, making her the kind of girl who dumps her pain on others, or soften her. Some of the kindest souls on this planet became kind because they were hurt, and they made a promise to never treat anyone the way they were treated.
The worst people offer the best example of how not to act, so help your daughter learn from their mistakes. Remind her how she can’t force anyone else to be kind, but she can hold herself to that standard, and in doing so, she’ll find peace, freedom, and intimacy with God.
The more you grow in faith, the less intriguing the mean crowd looks. Your daughter will know that she’s gained maturity when she begins to care less about the opinions of mean girls and more about the opinions of people she respects and admires.
When your daughter gets hurt or blindsided, help her stay strong, be patient, and do the right thing. Remind her that God rewards faithfulness, and as she works on being a good friend and growing her relationship with Him, He’ll bring girls into her life she can count on and trust.
We have all acted mean out of ignorance or arrogance. My gut reaction after seeing my daughter upset, was to meet mean with mean. While it’s tempting to point fingers and talk about mean girls as if we’ve never been guilty, we’re constantly invited to jump into mean conversations. It takes strength, courage, and help from God to not cave.
It also takes strength, courage, and help from God to apologize when we are wrong.
The pain is real, and when your daughter faces it, she needs extra love, compassion, and support. She also needs the hope of Christ – for He is the one who heals broken hearts, changes hearts of stone, inspires transformation, and uses for good what humans intend for harm.
Our world has grown increasingly cruel, but we can rise above this. We can channel our energy into positive relationships, conversations, and passions. We can focus on things with eternal value and infuse good into a world that desperately needs more kindness, love, and heartfelt connection. Show me who your friends are and I will tell you where you will be in 5 years. The company they keep shapes so much more than their social media accounts.
Silvia Farag, MSW, LSW, PsyD Candidate runs the Christian Center for Counseling and works with adolescent and adult clients in individual, couples & family therapy. Her personal philosophy is that through human connection, we can foster the encouragement needed to take courageous steps toward creating positive change. She uses evidenced based and strengths-based approaches & believes in the inherent ability of everyone to overcome when they are willing to step into their potential. Therapy illuminates the path so the client can make conscious steps towards emotional health. Her attitude is one of respect and acceptance of each client’s individuality, allowing for the creation of a safe, therapeutic space. Silvia serves with Coptic Women Fellowship, an archdiocese ministry focused on enriching, supporting, and strengthening the lives of women, along with the clergy and several accomplished women of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.