It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“One recent survey of 273 third graders in Massachusetts found that 47 percent have been bullied at least once; 52 percent reported being called mean names, being made fun of or teased in a hurtful way; and 51 percent reported being left out of things on purpose, excluded from their group of friends or completely ignored at least once in the past couple of months.” (“The Playground Gets Even Tougher”, New York Times, 10/8/2010)
In my improv class last night, three women were asked to act out a scene in which they were coworkers around the watercooler. It didn’t take long for their characters to turn into mean girls, plotting to take down their poorly dressed coworker.
It struck me in that moment that mean girls exist way beyond our school days. They may wear the guise of a mature adult, but there are still office cliques and book club cliques and mommy cliques.
According to recent research, it’s not just that mean-girl behavior lasts longer—it starts earlier too. While social aggression used to start around fifth grade, now it can take hold as early as kindergarten.
Yikes. There’s no safe place. At a time when headlines are full of teen suicides due to bullying, it’s just plain terrifying.
In fifth grade I was the victim of a BFF-turned-mean-girl. My best friend decided that she didn’t like me anymore. We had been inseparable until one day when she decided that wait, never mind, she didn’t want to speak to me anymore. After a month it was “wait, never mind, we are BFFs again.” If memory serves, this happened twice in that same year. Luckily, I’ve mostly blocked it out.
Then, of course, there was the infamous letter my friend wrote me during the summer between seventh and eighth grade.
The worst part? For most of my youth, I was one of the popular kids. What could it have been like for the kids who had a harder time socially? I don’t even want to know.
What I do know is that female relationships are fragile, especially when girls are young. They can be flipped upside down with no warning. “Oh, yesterday we were best friends? Too bad, today I hate you.”
I’m not a mom, so I can’t speak to this from any anecdotal place, but according to sources in this article, many of the mean girls come from mean moms. Mean moms who encourage their daughters’ exclusivity.
It’s scary to think—and almost too hard to believe—that mothers might reinforce this kind of behavior. It’s enough to make a would-be mom (one day, that is. I have no announcements here) run in the opposite direction… How? Why? Whaaat??
These aren’t rhetorical questions. I really don’t get it. Many of you are moms… can you enlighten me? Have you seen other mothers encourage their daughters’ mean-girl behavior? Have you seen moms behave as mean girls themselves?