As a child and adolescent psychotherapist, parenting expert and writer Katie Hurley, LCSW, argues that the “mean girl” syndrome is not reserved for high school. In fact, Hurley wrote her book, “No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls,” with younger girls in mind. “You’ll find information and strategies to help your girls from preschool through middle school with developing friendships, dealing with relational aggression and other forms of bullying and developing self-esteem, assertiveness skills [and] resiliency,” she says.
Hurley recommends that parents read the book with their daughters to open up lines of communication. “Young girls don’t usually look for help right away when they encounter mean girls,” she says. “They might be confused, overwhelmed, embarrassed or humiliated. Often, they try to handle it alone.”
Watch for these behavioral changes that are red flags in young girls:
- Anxious behaviors,
- Social isolation,
- Frequent physical complaints with no known cause,
- Sleep problems,
- Changes in appetite,
- Sadness or withdrawal, and
- Academic challenges.
It’s important to understand how social aggression manifests. Rumors, gossip, exclusion, alliance building, taunting, hurtful sarcasm and public humiliation are all strategies used to hurt other girls, according to Hurley. “The fact is that gossip and rumor-spreading are easy tools for targeting another child when it comes to relational aggression,” she says. “While text messaging and social media have certainly exacerbated the problem, my conversations with young girls continue to show that gossip and rumors are a huge problem at elementary and middle school campuses.”
Adults often tell kids to “walk away” or “just ignore it,” but in reality, that’s difficult to do. Instead, try telling kids that they can help a friend in need by:
- Refuting the rumor,
- Meeting a negative comment or action with a positive one,
- Saying something kind to the victim of the rumor, or
- Getting help from an adult.