From the NYT…
Is there really a fresh spate of mean little girls? Social scientists who study relational aggression point to a dearth of longitudinal data. It could just be heightened awareness among hyper-parents, ever attuned to their children’s most minuscule slight. It could be a side effect of early-onset puberty, with hormones raging through otherwise immature 8-year-olds. Or it may be that an increase has yet to be captured; relational aggression wasn’t a focus of academic research until the mid-1990s, making longitudinal study a bit premature. Most studies still leapfrog from preschoolers to early adolescents.
I can’t address the data and can’t make longitudinal studies happen, but I can say that without a doubt, in the 1970s, mean girls existed and they were just as cruel as the girls described in the NYT piece. Anyone who reads the below and flashes back to her own school experiences with a gut-wrenching nausea will know exactly what I mean. The quote refers to a little girl who was bullied in school to the point of nightmares and constant crying at home:
One day, Caroline came home from school carrying a little blue rock that her counselor had given her, a treasure she had presented to her class. “They asked if it had Caroline Disease,” she told her mother. “It’s starting again.”
It starts again, and it never ends. Nothing seems to change it once you’re a target. In elementary school, what’s childish to adults is piercing to a child. The total ostracization–the loneliness on the playground, watching them scoot away at lunch, standing in line until the end as teams are picked, wandering the classroom for a partner for group projects–these daily experiences chip away at even the most robust self esteem, the toughest resilience. Add in teases, set-ups designed specifically to humiliate the target, and it’s no wonder that some bullied children simply wish they were dead.
It’s not only girls whom mean girls bully. They’ll go after the boys, too. My own son experienced girls telling him they wished he were dead so he’d go to hell and other sweet nothings. He still occasionally speaks of it even though he’s been away from these children now for almost a year.
How about you? Were you ever the target of the mean girls? Were you one yourself? And what should be done about them? When situations like the one described below exist, can anything be done?
In certain cases, the parents themselves seem to be pleased. When her daughter Julia was in first grade last year, said Lea Pfau, a mother of two in Sherman Oaks, Calif., one girl threatened that, unless Julia did as she ordered, “I’m going to tell my mommy, and she’ll set up a meeting with your mommy, and you’ll get in trouble.” The girl then orchestrated a series of exclusive clubs in which girls could be kicked out for various infractions. “I was surprised by the fierceness,” Ms. Pfau said. “But I was more surprised at the other parents. Rather than nip it in the bud, they encouraged it.”