Mean girl behavior from frenemies and fake friends often leaves girls feeling puzzled and distraught with no clear idea on how to respond. Despite what adults may think, mean girl behavior is not normal girl behavior. And you should never expect your daughter to know how to respond without some coaching from you.
To most adults, mean girl behavior is perplexing. But there are a number of reasons why girls choose to be mean or use relational aggression. These reasons include everything from climbing the social ladder to peer pressure.
Mean girls also use social media to harm others through cyberbullying. Now, in addition to in-person gossip, they also use online gossip, sexual bullying and other hurtful tactics. Social media also can be used to hurt girls when cliques are reinforced in cyberspace. Girls often post pictures of exclusive parties and events where only a select few were included.
If your daughter comes in contact with mean girls, don't be surprised at how painful it will be for her. But there are things you can say and do. Here are eight things you can tell your daughter to help her cope with mean girls.
“Smile and stay strong.” Mean girls often have a natural ability to discern whom they can control and manipulate. So, encourage your daughter to smile and to remain confident. She should avoid looking nervous, insecure or defeated. Work with your daughter on being resilient and building self-esteem. Mean girls are less likely to repeat their tactics if your daughter can remain confident and in control.
“Be confident and assertive.” Every girl needs to learn how to stand up for herself, especially against mean girls. The best way to do this is to learn how to be assertive. The goal is that your daughter can defend herself in a respectful manner without being aggressive or mean in return. She should find a way to communicate that this girl’s bullying and mean tactics are wrong and will not be tolerated. Remind your daughter that mean girls count on her being passive about their behavior. She should show them that they miscalculated when they targeted her.
“Consider your response.” Remind your daughter that although she has no control over what other people say or do, she does have control over her response. Stress that no matter what a mean girl says or does, she should try to keep her responses free of emotion. And if she can’t respond in a calm manner, she should ignore the comments and walk away. Then, encourage her to talk with you or another adult about how to deal with future attacks. The goal is to prepare her for future attacks by mean girls.
“Disengage from the conversation.” If your daughter is a bystander to mean girl behavior, she needs to know that standing by and saying nothing communicates that she accepts this type of behavior. And if she doesn’t have the courage to say something at the moment, she should walk away. When mean girls don’t have an active audience, they lose some of their power. Remind her that it’s also important to report unjust behavior to an adult. She also can befriend the target of the mean girl. All these things reduce the likelihood that the mean girl’s behavior will continue to be successful.
“Keep an adult informed.” Too many times, girls think they can or should handle mean girl behavior on their own. While there are a number of reasons why kids don’t tell anyone about bullying, stress to your daughter that you and other adults are there to help her. Be sure she knows that you have her back and that you will work with the school to put an end to this behavior. Be committed to helping your daughter through this and she will be more likely to keep you informed.
“Find another group of friends.” Oftentimes, the mean girl is someone your daughter thought was a friend. Your daughter may be part of a group that now has become a clique and the girls in it are no longer true friends but frenemies instead. Talk to your daughter about how to spot fake friends. Also discuss the signs that exist when a friend is a bully. Then brainstorm who might be good friends to pal around with. Encourage your daughter to branch out and invite those girls over. Be willing to help her develop friendships. Healthy friendships are one of the best deterrents of bullying.
“Focus on school.” It is easy for kids to allow what others say and do to impact their everyday lives. And often the first thing that is impacted is their schoolwork. Help your daughter change her focus. Monitoring cell phone and computer use is a good place to start. But don’t prevent your daughter from using these means of communication. Instead encourage her to spend less time on social media. Stress that she should not let the turmoil caused by another’s actions control her life and her time. She needs to take back the control and focus on something she has control over like school or sports.
“Find healthy ways of coping.” Let your daughter know that what she is going through is hard and that she shouldn’t try to handle it on her own. Help her by being willing to listen to her without judging or trying to fix things. Let her know that you are a safe person to talk to. And if she doesn’t want to talk to you, help her find someone she can talk to. Also, be aware of the consequences of long-term bullying like eating disorders, body image issues, PTSD, self-harming behavior, depression and even thoughts of suicide. And don’t be afraid, or delay, in getting outside help for your daughter. It is not a sign of weakness to seek out medical professionals and counselors for bullying. In fact, it shows wisdom. You need to do everything you can to help your daughter cope with mean girls.