The mean girl phenomenon is an unfortunate reality, affecting students of all ages. The use of relational aggression and the formation of cliques have become all too common in girls grades K-12.
Relational aggression is a kind of social torment that often exists without parents or teachers even knowing. Girls may use name-calling, rumor spreading, ostracizing (purposeful exclusion) and manipulation, to inflict serious psychological harm on their chosen targets. The results of this behavior are often scaring and long-term, leaving victims confused, upset and with no clear understanding of why they are being targeted.
There is no doubt that increased use of social media has led to a rise in mean girl behavior, specifically via “cyberbullying”. These attacks come in the form of gossip, harassment and hurtful comments. Girls may feel excluded on social media when pictures of events and social activities are posted as well. Pictures may also be used as a form of social ammunition to embarrass and humiliate female targets, creating a permanent record of this behavior.
Girls may engage in relational aggression for a number of reasons, including climbing the social ladder and peer pressure. Unfortunately many adults don’t view the aggression as serious or concerning and may ignore it as a “normal part of girl behavior and development”. Nothing could be further from the truth and the effects of this behavior can be devastating to the victims, as well as the instigators. Mean girls may be categorized as vicious, controlling and manipulative, characteristics that can lead to life-long depression, anger and unhappiness. Their self-loathing and dissatisfaction can lead to eating disorders and addictive tendencies.
Adults must raise their awareness of mean girl behaviors to intervene with both the victims and the agitators. The risks are too great to our girls, both physically and emotionally, so here are some warning signs that a girl may be engaging in mean girl behavior:
- She may struggle with envy and desire to have what other girls have
- She is appearance-focused, often overly concerned with her hair, clothes, face, make-up or weight
- She is status-focused, often obsessed with what others think of her
- She has friendship troubles and problems relating to other girls
- She is a member of a clique and has one exclusive group of friends
- She has control issues and is clearly the one in charge
The identification of these behaviors, or the victimization of targets, may require careful scrutiny by both parents and teachers. It is extremely important, though, to assist girls of any age in dealing with this problem so as to set them up for success and a healthy development of self-esteem and image.
Stefanie Werner, LMSW