I see from my teen clients that girl drama has reached a new peak, or in reality, a new low. Teen girl social strife and the drama that accompanies it are magnified to a new scale of meanness in today’s social climate.
The tragedy is that girls disguised as friends are often just bossy bullies. Girls looking for true friends are unable to find a safe harbor in their peers where they can comfortably be themselves. This happens in “friend groups”, a millennial word for “clique”, which are comprised of several members and one queen bee who runs the show. The ultimate mean girl as the decider of who stays and who goes is nothing new, and sadly extends far beyond adolescents. Just read the April 2014 story in Boston Magazine to learn about Boston’s suburban mean moms and the devastating impact they have on others’ lives.
It makes sense that the female offspring of these mean moms are raised as bullying pros without even knowing it; effortlessly tormenting pals in their “friend groups”.
In today’s culture, the ‘anything goes’ motto extends beyond appearance and attire into relationships. Teens struggle to define typical peer relationships in a culture that accepts rivals, or worse, rival friendships. Here are 5 reasons why it’s too easy for girls to be the new mean girl.
Brazen Attitude of Entitlement Our indulgent culture of ensuring kids are heard has been misinterpreted by many to mean, “It’s okay to allow our children to be demanding of anyone, anytime.” Girlfriends ask whatever they want of each other, and the ones who can’t or won’t meet expectations are often left on the outs. I can think of a recent example where a mom offered to take her daughter and four out of 12 friends to the mall after school; that’s all that would fit in her car. Upon pick-up at the school, the mother arrived to a scene of uninvited girls insisting that they should have been included. The mother, a nice, well-intentioned woman, felt bad that the girls were upset. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry. My car only fits 5,” she agreed to chaperone all 12 girls at the mall if they could get a ride there, however, that was not sufficient. The girls yelled across the parking lot and called and texted the mall-going girls throughout the entire afternoon, complaining that they were left behind.
The mother was horrified by the scene these girls created under the guise of close friendship, where in reality they acted more as if they were in a gang. Isn’t punishing individuals for not doing what the entire group decides a form of socialized aggression, consistent with a gang?
When asked, the girls adamantly describe their friend group as being composed of close peer friendships, and yet they treat each other very poorly. It’s not safe for them to make decisions without a group consensus, similar to a gang.
Tolerance of Blatant Disrespect. Teen girls don’t demonstrate self-respect when they blatantly disrespect others, including adults and those in authority. Self-respect implies that a person feels enough respect for themselves to treat others with kindness and the way they would want to be treated. When teens are nasty to whoever isn’t giving them exactly what they demand, they are letting everyone know how badly they feel about themselves and the world around them.
Parents who attempt to make their home a welcome spot for their daughters and their friends complain that the girls’ treatment of one another and of the parents is very troublesome. They describe the girls as having a complete disregard for authority and treating parents more like underlings then actual adults who are in charge.
Helicopter Parents. Acceptance of drama and promotion of entitlement by parents only breeds more of the same. Mothers report that they often try to mediate their teen daughter’s peer conflicts because they are fearful that, without parental assistance, the girls will lose their friends and have a social breakdown. Historically, teens have wanted separation from their mothers; wanting to do things their way as they grow more independent. And yet I’ve frequently heard from teens and mothers that parents “need” to get involved in teen drama because the girls can’t seem to resolve their own conflicts. What is this teaching our teenagers? Parents need to allow their teen girls to fight their own battles, learn from their mistakes and choose friends that are true friends. Not all girls are part of the mean crowd. Teens who learn early on who their true friends are, and what qualities are important in a friendship, may not suffer so much in adulthood. Parents would benefit from allowing their daughters to learn this earlier rather than later, after settling into an adult lifestyle like the Boston Magazine article describes.
Bypassing assertiveness and going directly for aggressiveness. All of the examples above point towards an unmitigated intensity that reflects aggressive behavior much more than assertiveness. Teens today could use some basic assertiveness training which is a component of acting like a mature and responsible adult. Assertive people have acquired the skills to state their opinions to others in a respectful manner, while those who are aggressive attack others and force their opinions on others. Assertive people have a better chance of gaining the respect of those around them, as they are able to stand up for themselves while considering the needs and views of others. Parents, adults and authority figures own the burden of teaching young girls how to assert their needs with friends, family and even adults. Girls learn through being assertive and advocating for their position and desires without attacking others.
Social media. Social media has an instant audience for every impulse and angry statement. That was not the original intent of social media, yet it seems to be its primary use amongst teens who fail to realize that even texting can’t be erased forever. Parents can teach children that freedom of expression on the Internet does not mean bashing a business on Yelp or a person on Facebook. It’s always better to confront a person directly. It’s normal and natural to want to do it via the web in an over-the-top way when someone feels slighted. By outlining the reasons that this will backfire and be even less effective than speaking directly to whomever has let you down, parents can teach children the right way to be assertive and stay away from aggressive attacks on others.
As adults, we need to take a good hard look at what’s happening to our children today. If we’re raising them to be demanding, insensitive and possessive to the point of being hurtful and self-destructive, then we need to change our behavior and help them change theirs.
About Dr. Kate Roberts
Kate Roberts, Ph.D., is a Boston-area licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who has coached parents and families for more than 25 years. She offers parents practical strategies in her bi-weekly parenting column; Dr. Kate’s Parent Rap in the Salem News and in her Savvy Parenting blog for Psychology Today. Dr. Roberts has worked as a consulting psychologist to school districts throughout New England and works with parents and children through Massachusetts General Hospital. You can check out Dr. Kate's website at www.drkateroberts.com and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.