Read the paper lately or heard any of the troubling stories about our girls? It appears many of the sugar and spice set are no longer nice. Here are just a sample appalling recent headlines to refresh your memory:
• “Millburn High Senior Girls Create Slut List for Incoming Freshman and Welcome Them By Slamming Them Into Lockers”
• “Six Lakeland Teen Girls Assault Former Friend”
• “Teen Girls Charged With Abusing Elderly Alzheimer’s Victims At Nursing Home Where They Worked”
• “Young Girl Tortured By Rumors Spread About Her On Facebook”
Of course the stories are shocking and clearly troubling, but even more disturbing is that such incidents are not isolated. The fact is mean girls are getting even meaner.
Mean Girls Get Meaner–What the Research Shows
Data also shows that mean-girl bullying behavior is a quickly growing trend that knows no boundaries. Rural or urban, rich or poor –our New American Girl is becoming crueler and most especially during those tween years. But even most disturbing: their mean behavior is starting at younger ages! Every group of educators I’ve worked with since the doors opened this fall voice their concern about the newer and meaner girl scene.
So what can parents do? The first step to turning this troubling trend around (which believe me, is doable!) is awareness. Simply put: you must get educated about this trend and how it is impacting our daughters. I’ll be posting everything you need to know about new bullying trends so we can help our kids grow to be strong and compassionate. I’ll also be updating you over the next few weeks about the research and what you can do. (A past blog this week addressed signs of the mean girls scene).
A Girl’s Kind of Mean: Relational Aggression
Forget “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Research too often shows a different picture with all too many of our daughters. “Vicious, mean, calculating and backstabbing” are more applicable. Psychologists call such hurtful behavior “Relational Aggression” or RA because the goal is to damage the victim’s social standing or reputation by intentionally manipulating how others view her. And the methods of RA are always cold and calculated. For example, deliberately isolating or excluding the victim, spreading vicious rumors or posting scandalous lies online, or creating situations to publicly humiliate her. But regardless of whether or not it is common, there is absolutely no excuse for such cold-blooded, vicious behavior. Never! Ever!
Ages and Stages of Relational Aggression
Relational aggression begins in earnest around third and fourth grade and is at its peak around those middle school years. In the past, many of these behaviors were dismissed as a “rite of passage” or even normal kid behavior, but it is anything but tame and should never be seen as “just a normal phase.” Cruelty can only become a habit and a dangerous one at that.
The latest research shows that girls, as young as four, are bullying, threatening, and shunning out other girls from playgroups. We’re also seeing an increase in physical aggression amongst the older girl scene.
James Garbarino, in his must read See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Getting More Violent And What We Can Do About It, points out that twenty-five years ago for every ten boys arrested for assault, there was only one girl. Now there are only four boys arrested for each girl arrested. “Simply put,” Garbarino says, “the official arrest data indicate that girls today assault people and get arrested more often than did the girls of generations past[ii].”
Need more proof? Read on. It’s not a pretty picture for the pink gender:
- Girls in gangs are just as likely to participate in beatings as boys
- U.S. Department of Justice shows that in 1990 one in 50 juvenile arrests for all crimes is a girl. In 2003 one in three juvenile arrests for violent crimes is a girl
- More than one in every four teens aged 13 to 15 who are arrested for aggravated assault is a girl
The Impact the Mean Girl Scene Has On Our Daughters
Forget that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” concept. Being taunted and shunned, hearing cruel words or knowing vicious and malicious gossip is being spread about you is emotionally traumatizing. Studies show that relational aggression is every bit as damaging as physical abuse to a victim. So it should be no surprise that research also shows that RA is linked to low self-esteem, intense sadness, heightened anxiety, fear of other people, anger, eating disorders, social withdrawal and loneliness. It also lowers grades and academic performance and increases a girl’s risk for depression and in extreme cases, suicide.
Those are just a few of the reasons why relational aggression and bullying should never be taken lightly. The risks to our daughter’s emotional health are just far too great.
Michele Borba holds a doctorate in educational psychology and counseling and masters in learning disabilities and TODAY show contributor on parenting and education. She is the author of 23 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. Here are the issues to consider in the book that will help you help your daughter: Cliques, Insensitivity, Bullying, Bullied, Not Knowing Right from Wrong, Bad Friends, Peer Pressure, Growing Up Too Fast.
Resources Used for This Article:
Michele Borba: “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries”
“Teen Girls Charged with Abusing Elderly Alzheimer’s Victims at Nursing Homes Where They Worked,” The Associated Press, New York Daily News Dec. 4, 2008.
James Garbarino, See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It.” New York: The Penguin Press, 2006, p. 3.