WE all remember what it was like to be on the receiving end of mean girl treatment at school.
Whether it was bitchy remarks, rumour-spreading or dirty looks, it was nastiness that often left lasting memories.
Now a new book, ‘The Friendship Maze: How to help your child navigate their way to happy, positive relationships’ finally reveals what’s really going on when kids are horrible to each other.
Here, author Tanith Carey looks at how to help your daughter spot mean girl friends – and brush off bullying behaviour, rather than be bruised by it.
She has high social status
Mean girls aren’t usually the unhappy kids who have no mates and who are waiting to bully your child in the playground.
In fact, there’s a good chance they are in your child’s friendship group. They may the group’s Queen Bee who uses mean remarks to build her social status by making others too scared to cross her.
How to help: Your child may look up to the mean girl and be willing to put up with her behaviour because she sees her as one of the ‘popular’ girls.
According to Yale psychology Professor Mitch Prinstein there are two types of popularity.
Thirty per cent of youngsters are popular for the right reasons – because they are both visible and likeable.
However, the other 70 per cent have a combination of sophisticated social skills, and more dominant personalities, which they use to wield power over others. They are feared, rather than liked.
So get your daughter to ask if the mean girl in her life is popular because people are afraid of her, or because she’s nice.
When your child works out the difference, she won’t seem quite as intimidating.
They may the group’s Queen Bee who uses mean remarks to build her social status by making others too scared to cross her
She’s stages hit-and-run attacks
Schools are chock full of messages telling our kids it’s wrong to bully and they will be in deep trouble if they are found out.
So these days, it’s not so much relentless campaign of bullying which is the problem, as much hit-and-run bitchy put-downs, particularly amongst girls, who know these sniper attacks are much more difficult to spot by adults.
Most of the power of these remarks comes from the fact that the victim didn’t see it coming and doesn’t have an answer, leaving them feeling powerless and angry with themselves.
However afterwards, the mean girl will probably go back to being nice again, leaving your daughter relieved she’s stopped – but also confused and scared that her fr-enemy will do it again.
How to help: A simple challenge can be all it takes to nip this type of guerrilla attack in the bud.
When a mean girl says something unkind, show your child to call out the behaviour immediately by calmly asking: ‘Can you repeat that?’ or ‘What do you mean?’ If the other child has a clear conscience, they won’t mind answering.
If it was meant as a power-play, the mean girl will realize your daughter has spotted it and is calling her out.
It will also send out a clear message that your girl isn’t an easy target – and the mean girl will think twice about trying it again.
She wants to be in control
At primary school, if there’s a play-date, it has to be at the mean girl’s house. If they’re meeting up secondary school, the mean girl ONLY wants to go to shopping to return her birthday presents. If your daughter doesn’t want to, the meet-up is cancelled.
Mean girls may often target particular friends to compete with – usually to feel better about themselves – and a mean girl will always pick an area where she thinks she can win
How to help: Good friendships are based on give and take – and compromise. It’s important that your daughter now learns to make her needs met and know how to say clearly what she also wants – because it’s a skill she can will need in her adult relationships.
Teach your daughter to make it clear that both have equal rights in the relationships.
Show her too how to speak in clear, non-confrontational ‘I would like’ sentences to make her wishes clearly understood.
She will try and steal your daughter’s friends – and then her boyfriends
Mean girls may often target particular friends to compete with – usually to feel better about themselves – and a mean girl will always pick an area where she thinks she can win. For example has your teenage daughter got a boy that she likes?
During my research for the book, I came across examples of mean girls deliberately going through their best friend’s social media lists and trying to befriend their crush out of the blue.
They even went to the extent of sending the most unflattering photos of their friend – while sending the boys sexy ones of themselves.
If the mean girl’s plan works, it can cause real heartbreak to your daughter.
How to help: It’s likely your child will already have noticed competitive behaviour from her mean girl friend.
For example, her mate may be interested in hearing all about it when she’s having a difficult time – but want to change the subject as soon as she hears your daughter’s doing well.
If your daughter wants to try and preserve the relationship, help her address what’s she noticed.
Suggest she tells her friend that while she loves their friendship, she wants to feel like they are supporting each other, instead of competing.
If the competitive power-plays continue, suggest she gently lets the friendship fade while avoiding telling her mate secrets – or anything else – that the mean girl can use against her.
And how to make sure your daughter doesn’t become a mean girl?
We all like to think our child could never be mean.
You only really need to intervene if your child is being deliberately cruel, or persistently picking on someone with less social power
But the truth is that every child plays this role from time to time – and this is ‘normal social conflict’ every youngster needs to learn how to handle.
You only really need to intervene if your child is being deliberately cruel, or persistently picking on someone with less social power.
However in the meantime, there’s plenty we parents can do to raise girls who lift each other up – instead of putting each other down.
Avoid being a mean girl yourself: You are your child’s first role model and they learn how to interact with others from you.
For example, research shows that children tend to use the silent treatment on others when their parents have used in on that as a punishment.
When children learn first-hand how much it hurts, it becomes their weapon of choice too. Don’t sulk, ignore or use sarcasm with your child or harshly judge other people – or they will too.
Make it a family value to treat everyone you meet with dignity and in the same way that you would like to be treated.
Don’t leave them to watch reality TV: A study of more than 1,100 tween and teen girls by the Girl Scouts Research Institute found that girls who regularly watch reality TV, like Love Island and The Real Housewives of Cheshire, accept and expect more aggression in their lives.
While adults have the life experience to see through the hype and staged set-ups, children are more likely to believe this is how the world works. Three-quarters of those quizzed believe the shows are mostly real and unscripted.
It means girls may start to see conflict is sold as entertainment – and as something that is part and parcel of relationships. If your child wants to see this kind of program, sit down and watch with them.
Talk about the behaviour they are seeing, whether it’s kind or unkind and how they could change the script.
Don’t encourage top dog behaviour: Mothers who were – or are – Queen Bees themselves may secretly quite like seeing their own daughters being head of the most school cliques.
If you are that parent, break the cycle because your child’s individuality is worth more than that.
Apart from anything else, the top dogs in the school year are not the happiest because these girls have to spend a lot of time and energy to keep up – and defending- their position at the top of the pile.
They are also more likely to be involved in dramas and social power struggles.
- ‘The Friendship Maze: How to help your child navigate their way to positive, happy friendships’ is published by Summersdale, price £10.99 – buy here
In other parenting news, experts warn that the “W” sitting position is bad for kids and could leave them pigeon-toed.