Posted: July 14th, 2010 by Michele Borba
How to know if a girl may be a victim of female bullying and the “Mean Girl Scene”
“I don’t want to go to school!”
“All the girls hate me!”
“Can’t we please just go away for awhile!”
“I can’t take it anymore!”
Sound familiar? They’re the kind of comments young girls utter about the “mean girl scene” that they’re part of. Left out. Rejected. Excluded. Gossiped about. Hurt. Humiliated. Even terrorized.
The problem is most girls are too embarrassed to say their true feelings to their parents or teachers out loud and so they keep their humiliation, stress and terror to themselves.
They are victims of hurtful, cruel behavior called “Relational Aggression” or RA that is perpetrated by other girls –usually peers.
The goal of relational aggression is to damage the girl’s social standing or reputation by intentionally manipulating how others view her.
The methods of RA are always cold and calculated: Deliberately isolating or excluding the victim, spreading vicious rumors or posting scandalous lies online, or creating situations to publicly humiliate her.
The consequences to the victim’s mental health and character are serious.
Unfortunately, the signs of relational aggression are often tougher for parents and teachers to spot than traditional bullying. One reason is because there are usually no physical scrapes, bruises, torn clothing, or lost items that are typical with physical or sexual-type bullying.
And then there’s another reason: our daughters may not tell us that they are victims of the mean girl set which is exactly why parents and teachers must learn the warnings signs.
Studies show that the older the girl, the less likely she will divulge her troubling experience with the mean social scene to an adult.
The top reason for their silence: Girls say silent suffering is often much easier than admitting to peer humiliation.
Many girls also admit that they did “tell” a parent, teacher or other caregiver and even pointedly ask for help, but they were only to have their “tale” dismissed as trivial, an exaggeration or just plain untrue.
“Why bother,” many a girl told me. “No one listened.”
“It’s just easier to stay quiet,” others said.
“It would be far worse if the girls found out I snitched on them. My life would be a living hell.”
As a result many girls never receive the emotional help they so desperately need. So let’s not wait and hope our girls come to use. They may not. Instead, let’s look for certain signs of RA in your daughter or in her friends so they can get the support.
Signs A Girl May Be a “Mean Girl” Victim
Here are a few behaviors that could be signs of RL. Of course, there could be a number of other reasons for such behaviors, but any one of the traits below should be a parent red flag that something is wrong and warrant a closer look. Just don’t overlook that relational aggression could be a possible cause.
She is “picked on,” shunned, or excluded often. Every girl will be picked on or left out, but if you hear this complaint more than a few times take your daughter seriously. Bullying is a usually a repeated behavior that always has a negative intent. Once a girl becomes a target, she often is repeatedly targeted. Watch for a repeated pattern.
She displays a pattern of wishy-washy, on-and-off again “friendships.” She seems to be friends with one girl one week and then “hates” her the next week. Or she’s “best friends” with one girl one day and then quickly becomes best friends with another girl another day.
She speaks negatively about certain girls or a certain group of girls or clique. This could be the same group of girls that she once considered to be good friends. Tune in a bit closer. It could be a sign that relational aggression is happening in your child’s class or group.
She has a sudden marked and uncharacteristic change in mood. The girl may seems sadder or even depressed or more irritable or angry and those changes seems to come on when she comes home from school, during the weekends (when she may be “uninvited”) or after a phone call, email or text-message.
She suddenly withdraws. She starts pulling away from things she once enjoyed. She is lonely.
She doesn’t speak of having any friends. No one calls, texts, emails or invites her over (not for one day or one weekend but as a general pattern). Remember, popularity is a myth. Girls don’t need lots of friends, but they do need one or two loyal buddies. The red flag here is if your daughter has no friends, or had friends and suddenly “lost” them.
She suddenly avoids certain social situations. She doesn’t want to go to school or take part in the scouting, church group, soccer club, 4-H or other group activities she once enjoyed.
She seems jittery, concerned or even afraid when an email, text, message, or phone call comes for her. She may quickly cover up the computer screen or refuse to answer a text or personal call. It may mean she is the victim of cyberbullying or fears that vicious electronic gossip or photos are being circulated about her.
She has a sudden change in her eating or sleep habits. She suddenly complains of stomach or headaches or the inability to focus or concentrate. She can’t sleep or sleeps much longer. Her grades take a dip.
She starts to speak about girls in a mean way. She adopts the attitude and behavior of a mean girl. Beware: victims can switch and become the bully if not helped.
If you think your daughter is really having a hard time, be available. Schedule a few weekends together. Take her to the gym with you. Take her to lunch. If things get really tough, consider seeking professional help.
Refer to my blog Mean Girls and Relational Aggression Solutions: How to Stop Girl Cruelty and Raise Compassionate, Respectful Daughters for specific ways to help your daughter if you suspect she is the victim or member of the Mean Girl Scene.
© 2011. Dr. Michele Borba is an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing. For more about her work refer to her website and daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check and follow her on twitter @MicheleBorba.