Girls need anti-bullying outlook
How to make a mean girl: Begin with an adolescent
girl, preferably young. Add one or more movie clips on ferocious female
behavior (excerpts from “Mean Girls” or “Thirteen” work well). Blend
until girl is saturated, then place in social setting with other girls
and let sit. Bullying behaviors should appear quickly. Recently,
behavior of adolescent girls has been the rage. Movies and TV shows
equate teen with mean, and tweenish Bratz dolls glare from store shelves
and magazine ads. The movie “Mean Girls” is currently a box-office hit.
Girls now get the message that, in addition to academic and athletic
accomplishments, they should be thin, sexy and violent.
Is this new, or have girls always used relational
aggression (female bullying) to hurt each other? In my talks across the
country, word wars are often dismissed because “girls will be girls” and
adolescence is a phase to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Life has changed dramatically for young women in the
past decade. The onset of puberty for girls is earlier than ever. Those
who blossom early or later are easy targets for rivalry and aggressive
behavior. Another new twist is the multitude of opportunities to
aggress. Girls can use cell phones to deliver hateful text messages
anywhere, any time. Computer chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mails and
Xanga Web sites deliver devastating put-downs in a millisecond. A recent
Girl Scout study confirmed that girls are nastier online than in real
When they're not in school or on phones or computers,
girls are bombarded with TV shows that encourage competition over men,
music that devalues women and movies that showcase teens at their worst.
All these perpetuate a “mean girl” stereotype, and they are likely to
increase because they mean big profits. Who cares about girls with
Don't get me wrong. Girls can act in mean ways. I've
heard many young women speak about being betrayed, back-stabbed and
blindsided by other girls. These behaviors wound, sometimes leading to
depression, eating disorders and antisocial behavior. For high-risk
girls, being excluded and tormented may tie into pregnancy, dropping out
and crime. Even well-adjusted girls feel ill, have impaired
concentration, or think about missing school because of relationship
But suggesting mean behaviors are normal behaviors is
simply wrong. Research shows that young women feel threatened and
uncomfortable participating in or even watching bullying between peers.
Said Patrice, a sixth-grader in one of my programs as
part of her adjudication: “I got a chance to be different. It showed me
I don't have to bully other girls, and they will like me for who I am.”
Patrice and girls like her are relieved to discover they don't have to
be mean. My programs show significant improvements in girls' relational
attitudes and behavior, which suggests that girls are both interested in
and willing to change. The stakes are high. Female physical violence is
often, if not always, preceded by verbal bullying. Mean girls can grow
into mean women.
Recognizing these dangers, schools have implemented
anti-bullying programs to eliminate physical hurts. Unfortunately,
relational aggression often goes undetected. When they are aware of it,
teachers and parents admit frustration over girl wars. No one should be
a victim of hurtful behaviors, least of all adolescent girls, who are
vulnerable to relationship issues.
My first suggestion, however, is an easy one. Turn off
the television. Spend some time with your girl discussing behaviors that
help rather than hurt. You might also disconnect the computer and stay
out of the movie theaters while you're at it.
Cheryl A Dellasega, Associate professor of
humanities at Pennsylvania State University
13 May 2004