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Move Over, Mean Girls! Meet the Mean Boys

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Watching my middle-school girl navigate the world of adolescent social learning is eye-opening.

boys excluding boy

Dr. Wendy Walsh: These days, chicks hurl biting words via sophisticated weapons like Twitter, Facebook and e-mail. Recently, in an attempt to "divide and conquer," some sixth-grade girls made a fake e-mail account and -- posing as another girl -- sent a scathing e-mail to her best friend. Luckily, the authors of the fake note were caught and hauled into the principal's office with their parents.

It's during moments like this that I have even at times wished for less-complicated "boy" battles, which I assumed were mostly confined to the playing field. I was wrong.

A recent study about the rise of "mean boys" shows that adolescent boys are beginning to use the same tactics as girls and understand that the goal is to increase social standing. The researchers found that boys and girls had experience with unstable friendships, social exclusion and rumor and gossip through notes, phones, e-mail and the Internet. There were a few differences, though: The boys used larger groups and some in-your-face tactics (like teasing and taunting) more often than girls, and their group exclusions included banning victims from sports teams. But both girls and boys apparently agree on one thing: The purpose of their "mean" behaviors is to increase social standing and peer acceptance -- and this is often best done by manipulating friendships.

While some of this behavior falls within the range of normal social learning, some people who become the victims of social dominance and aggression as kids and teens can have mental health problems for life. Childhood emotional wounds can linger for decades, and cause adult relationship problems at work and home. Hear that, boys?

Have you had any experiences with mean boys? Let us know below.

1 comments so far | Post a comment now
Michael dougherty April 21, 2010, 4:11 PM

Absolutely I have had such experiences, as the victim. Now I’m almost 30, and after meeting some of the guys that used to bully me at reunions, I’m shocked by how much more positive they are. I still resent them, I always will, so it’s hard for me to admit that they’ve all grown into fine people, but they have.

I think that one thing I might be able to add to your article is that the deciding factor between who becomes a mean boy (or girl) and who becomes a victim, is how quickly they develop an interest in the social hierarchy. Some people want to be popular from the very start, usually long before they’ve developed feelings of empathy. For some people, it’s the other way around.

Thanks for a great article. I am one of the people that believes that these days, too little attention is given to creating a healthy learning and growing environment for young boys, due in part to a mistaken perception that they are less vulnerable.

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