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Suspect Your Daughter Is a Mean Girl?

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Hazing among high school girls is hotter than ever. Is yours the hazer or the hazed?

teenage girls gossiping

Vivian Manning-Schaffel: Mean girls have been around throughout history. But this recent New York Times article about hazing at a New Jersey high school raised eyebrows, particularly because of how blasé these young chicks were -- as if hazing were a rite of passage they'd come to expect.

"Hazing among girls reflects the belief that one of the key components to their self-esteem is based on social power, in particular, social dominance of other girls. That's why you see it's the older girl going after the freshman girl -- it's quintessentially traditional," says Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and the New Realities of Girl World, which is about to be reissued in October. "It starts from a natural place of wanting to belong in a group, but the problem is that the group is based on superficial things, like 'you have to wear certain things or behave a certain way to be as cool as we are.' It's not necessarily a bad thing to be in a group, but it can transform into being a bad thing very quickly."

David Nelson, Ph.D., an associate professor at Brigham Young University, School of Family Life, conducted a study on "mean girl" behavior and found it begins in girls as young as (gulp) three!

"We found in our study, if you are on the alert, you can start seeing signs of 'mean girl' tendencies at around three or four years of age," Nelson said. But as much as they seem to get away with it, "mean girls" pay the price of intimacy in the long run. "You might be savvy and get a lot done with aggression, which these kids seem to do, but there's also a price to be paid long-term with being able to function well in intimate relationships," Nelson said.

So how can you tell if your daughter is indulging in "mean girl" behavior? Wiseman gives us six ways to check for clues:

Snoop. Parents need to figure out the usage controls from their cell provider. There's a way to monitor text messages and content from a computer without touching your kids' cell phone. It's worth taking the time to crack the code.

She has senior fever. Has your kid been waiting to be a senior forever? Has she been waiting to do the things that seniors do? It's a sign that she's invested in becoming an authority at school, Wiseman says.

See if people "ring" her. At every high school, there's a hot spot where the cool kids hang. Observe. Is she the center of the posse? Is she laser-focused on social status?

She knows how to lie ... and spares no detail to get away with it.

She's focused on revenge. "She ruminates," Wiseman says. "If she perceives that someone's wronged her, she'll do whatever she can to get them back."

If you bust your daughter engaging in mean girl behavior, Wiseman says a tough love stance is better than a buddy-buddy stance. Here's how Wiseman says to hold them accountable:

Be clear about your expectations. Acknowledge that you don't know for sure if it's going on, but outline what hazing looks like to you, be it targeting a kid to make her uncomfortable at school or laughing at someone when people go after her. Give her specifics so she understands your expectations.

Lay down the law. Wiseman recommends stating that the behavior is against everything you stand for as a parent and everything that you expect from her. Then explain that you will hold her accountable, you'll back up school disciplinary policies, and there will be consequences for her actions, like losing her phone for a period of time.

Let her know you have an eye on her, but give her the benefit of the doubt ... sort of. Wiseman recommends reminding her of your empirical view of her phone content with food for thought: "Say, 'You could do this and get away with it, and I'd never know. But I might. And that's a chance you need to think about taking.' That's particularly effective."

To repel mean girls, Wiseman says the more your daughter excels at activities in lieu of physical and material trappings, the better equipped she'll be to repel the hazers. "It's about having competencies," Wiseman says. "They provide a security system. The more your daughter is invested in her friends, the more damage hazing can do."

So what's the best way for a haz-ee to stick up for herself? "The thing to recognize and appreciate is that the hazer thinks she has mythological power," Wiseman says. "The hardest part is to face the girl in public, because she's going to go after you in public. Mean girls need to front. You want to stand your ground quickly and leave in public. The haz-ee should say exactly what's happening that they don't like. Instead of saying, 'Stop hazing me, or harassing me,' say something specific that occurred, like, 'You said, like the rest of my family, I'd be pregnant by the time I was 14.' Follow with exactly how you'd like the behavior to stop."

Wiseman also recommends acknowledging a lack of control over the situation and even admitting that it hurts. Then she recommends ending with claiming the right to peace and choosing when to walk away. "What's really important is strategizing about where you approach the person and where you leave. A lot of times, kids don't think there's anywhere they can go. But if you slow it down and think about where you'd go after a confrontation, you can also picture having it out, which is empowering," she says.

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16 comments so far | Post a comment now
lilikindsli September 29, 2009, 10:40 PM

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ali October 27, 2009, 8:59 AM

I cannot believe anyone would advocate snooping through their child’s phone instead of just ASKING them. But I guess if you decide to be the parent who snoops, you’d have to continue doing it because once your kid finds out, they’ll hate your guts and not tell you anything. And they’ll think you’re a f-ing hypocrite if you run your mouth about honesty, trust, and all that other crap…so go ahead and snoop through your kid’s things, but just remember that they WILL hate you for it. I know because my mother did it to me and I am still furious about it over 13 years later.

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