Part IV: Mean Girls–What Motivates Bullying?

by | Nov 14, 2009 | Empowering Girls, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Michele Borba

Note to readers: This is the fourth in a series of blogs about relational aggression-or the new mean girl scene-and what educators and parents can do to curb this  trend. In past blogs I’ve discussed the forms of relational aggression, how boys bully vs girls, and the impact of being targeted, and signs that your daughter may be a victim. Today is about what may motivate a girl to be mean and resources you can turn to. The key is to stay educated and connected so we can make a positive difference. 

Part I: Mean Girl Scene Gets Meaner: What Parents and Educators MUST Know 

Part II: The Mean Girl Scene: How Girls Bully and the Short and Long Term Impact of Relational Aggression

Part III. The Signs of Relational Aggression: How to Know If a Girl May Be Victimized


What Motivates A Girl to Be Part of the Mean Girl Scene?

There is no one reason why some girls are so mean and resort to using Relational Aggression (RA). Be aware that often the most charismatic and popular girls are the perpetrators and therefore are usually least likely to be the suspects of such cruel-hearted behavior. Here are a few of the prime motivators that turn our sugar and spice breed into no longer nice: 

  1. Needing power or control without learning the respectfully confident way to achieve those results
  2. Seeking popularity, belonging, friendship, or social status; sucked into a clique of mean girls and copying them
  3. Craving security or a safety net (being “inside” the mean girl scene is safer than being “outside”)
  4. Responding to an over-competitive, win-win-win, me-first culture
  5. Receiving positive attention or reinforced in an earlier stage with what an adult may have misinterpreted as a “leadership” trait; or allowed to get away with it (cruelty has become a habit)
  6. Having a diminished or under-nurtured capacity for empathy, sensitivity or compassion
  7. Encouraged to be “strong and assertive” by an adult minus the “respect” part
  8. Copying role models (including mothers) who put popularity as a prime commodity
  9. Succumbing to a cruel culture media (TV, books, celebrities, CD lyrics, pop culture) that encourages gossip and meanness
  10. Seeking revenge or driven by jealousy


Get Savvy And Read Up On the New American Girl

As much as we’d like to just will this problem away, the girl aggression problem is alive and well. The sad truth is the problem is only getting worse and is starting at younger ages. It’s time we take this issue seriously.  Here are a few of the best books about relational aggression that should be on your reading list. I know there are others, but these are my personal favorites (especially the last on the list 🙂

Odd Girl Out:  The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel J. Simmons

Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, by Rosalind Wiseman

Reviving Ophelia:  Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, by Mary Pipher

See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It, by James Garbarino

Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying, by Cheryl Dellasega and Charisse Nixon

Sugar and Spice and No Longer Nice: How We Can Stop Girls’ Violence, by Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Howard R. Spivak

The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers To Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, by Michele Borba


Here is another suggestion: Why not read one of these books with your parenting partner, girlfriend, or as a book club selection? My favorite idea was from the principal of Hilltop Academy who was concerned about the “Mean Girl Scene” in the sixth grade. She asked a couple of the school’s key Queen Bees if they would like to start a book club with a few other girls.”Sure!” the girl said. The principal chose Odd Girl Out by Rachel J. Simmons. Once the girls started to read and discuss the book (under the guidance of a fabulous principal), they recognized their own behavior and suddenly their mean streak stopped. Smart principal, eh?


Michele Borba is an educational psychologist,  a contributor for the TODAY show and author of more than 20 books. Her latest, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. Refer to the chapters on Cliques, Bullying, Insensitivity, Rejection.  Part of this blog was adapted from this book. You can follow Michele at her website or on twitter @MicheleBorba.