Once upon a time, there was a movie about a girl who was homeschooled, trying to fit into the jungle that is high school. If you are familiar with the title of this blog, it’s surely because you have watched (and probably rewatched) the movie “Mean Girls”. There is a reason the movie resonated with so many. Even though it was released in 2004, it feels like it could have been yesterday. The story is not a new one, it is about the trials and tribulations of high school and how to get along when you feel lost socially. It’s about how to stand up for yourself, and if your social status is determined by the “in” crowd. It isn’t the first of its kind, and it is definitely not the last. We all have our social horror stories from our time in school. No one left those years unscathed in some way, shape, or form. The truth is, the movie truly struck a chord with so many girls because we could see ourselves in one of the characters.
In speaking with friends, it is apparent that these social situations are happening at an earlier and earlier age. This is especially true of those who have girls. It used to be that “mean girls” and the like were reserved for high school. Finding your place in the world, in society, and social circles comes to a head around that time. However, social difficulties between girls, in particular, are happening at a younger and younger age. I have countless stories of difficulties between my grade 4 students over the years. These are situations where girls are purposely and maliciously mean, unkind, and exclusionary – things that you wouldn’t necessarily expect of 9- and 10-year-olds.
Before I go on, I want to make an important point. I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that girls are the only ones who deal with social difficulties. I know that with the rise of social media, emotional and social-based bullying is prevalent across all genders. I, however, it should be said that typically boys deal with disagreements in more of a physical manner whereas girls attack each other emotionally and socially. This is obviously not true for everyone but it is historically the pattern.
Going through middle school and high school I can recall several situations that would be categorized as “mean girl activity“. I remember the rise of three-way calling in the 90s as the weapon of choice for many girls. Two girls would collude to call a third without her knowing that someone was listening on the line. The first girl would get the other to say something mean about the third without her knowing that she was listening. What pursued was a barrage of attacks, as the “truth came out”. Admittedly, I was both the perpetrator and victim of this behaviour. It got to the point that girls would become paranoid whenever they received a phone call, asking numerous times if anyone else was listening on the line. Sabotaging each other socially is the number one way girls get at each other. And truth be told, there was no rhyme or reason behind it. It was simply to play off each other and test the boundaries of what we could get away with. Girls attack and play on anxieties of being alone or becoming a social pariah.
“You know that I’m not allowed to wear hoop earrings, right? Yeah, two years ago she told me hoops earrings were her thing, and I wasn’t allowed to wear them anymore. And then for Hanukkah my parents got this pair of really expensive white gold hoops and I had to pretend like I didn’t even like them. It was so sad.”Gretchen Wieners (Mean Girls)
I was well into my teens when I began to truly understand the notion of quantity over quality when it came to friendships. This is a lesson that needs to be learned not to be taught and sometimes it’s a difficult one to stomach. Understanding that true friends are those who will truly be with you through thick and thin comes with the territory of going through those trials. Some of my best friends are those who I have known since elementary school because those bonds have stood the test of time.
As a mother of a young girl, I struggle with this immensely. I am proud to say that she is well-adjusted socially and typically well-liked by her peers. Up until this point, Hubby and I have done all of the managings of friendships – organizing play dates, birthday parties, zoom calls, etc. Now that she is older, she has significantly more autonomy over who she interacts with. Gone are the days when you should be friends with everyone in your class simply because you share a space with them. Yes, you must respect each other but you don’t necessarily have to form strong bonds. A few weeks ago, she came home to tell me she had planned a play date with her friends. She informed me of the time and day and all I had to do was take her there. This was the first time she had organized something on her own and I was happy to oblige.
It is not all rainbows and sunshine though. And this is where I truly struggle. There are, of course, girls she is friends with whom I would not choose for her. Let me be frank and say I disagree with how they are brought up and how they interact in social situations. I worry that she may be influenced to try the things these girls do, even if just to see what it is like. I will say that this is a whole other can of worms for me to open up on another day. There are also girls with whom she does not get along. Not for any other reason that these girls lack social graces and verbal filters. It takes everything in me to not get involved when she tells me that girls in her class have said rude things to her. She lets these comments roll off her back, and sometimes has a witty retort for the other girl. I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of these things and I want to protect her with all my heart. I also know that these are paths she has to travel through on her own. With my map ideally, but without me in the driver’s seat.
So how, as a mom, do you reconcile having your child do things on their own and wanting to protect them at all costs? How do you find the balance between knowing how kids can be and letting them forge their own path? All I want for her is to be a strong, confident girl. And she is, but I don’t want her to lose that at the hands of a peer. Knowing how girls can be, and knowing how mean they are to one another, how do I arm her with the social wherewithal to stand up for herself and not let things take up space in her head? Really, at the end of the day, all we can do is teach our girls to be strong-willed, strong-minded, and thick-skinned. We can build them up before others tear them down. We can give them the language to speak up and talk back. And we can pray that the Regina George’s of the world don’t get into their heads. Otherwise one day mama-bear is going to come out swingin’.
This is life. Love, Mom.