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Traditional views of young womanhood support opposing stereotypes: that girls are sweet and well-behaved and that girls are gossipy social manipulators intent on tearing down other girls. These views are encased in children’s media portrayals ranging from passive Disney princesses to sniping friends in Angelina Ballerina episodes.
A modern girl-power movement has tweaked the notion of girls as ineffective and weak – Disney’s own heroine in Brave is an example – but there has been little opposition to the idea that most girls are mean. This leads to the idea that meanness is inevitable, even normal.
But, of course, it’s not. Mean girls are not born, they’re made. And not-mean girls are made, too. In this age of cyber-bullying and intense competition, we can save our girls from becoming nasty to each other.
If you’re raising a mean girl, here’s how to stop.
- Quit being so mean yourself. It’s too easy these days to use social media to complain, to disrespect people, to “pile on” negative comments once a thread gets into a downward spiral. Certainly your daughter may not be reading over your shoulder. But being mean to others rubs off in ways your child does see. Change your own impulses first before trying to change your girl.
- Quit being so competitive. The world is not a hierarchy from best to worst. Everyone is more complicated than that. Emphasis on competition and on beating out others not only leads to an arrogant attitude on the part of winners but also to subversive actions on the part of losers. Competition supports meanness in everybody. Lessen its impact.
- Quit being so superficial. Successful and admired women are not necessarily the prettiest, the ones with the best clothes, the ones who are in the gifted program, or the ones who are team captain. Avoid categorizing your daughter’s friends into simplistic boxes that deny the humanness of these young people. Your child – and other children – are not defined by their looks or their achievements.
To help your girl grow into a woman who is not mean, here’s how to start.
- Start modeling sincere compliments. Demonstrate to your daughter how to be genuinely appreciative of other people and to say things that make them happy. Being nice to other people requires making an effort to understand them. Model that.
- Start modeling personal integrity. This sounds like a big deal, but it’s really simple. It means not being swayed by popular opinion or going along with the crowd. It means sticking up for what’s right. It means being a friend to people who are being picked on and defending them. Bullying would be a thing of the past if bystanders had more personal integrity.
- Start modeling being nice. This sounds simple but it’s really a big deal. Become someone who doesn’t try to control others but who lets others be themselves. Become someone who doesn’t have to always get her own way. Become someone who doesn’t fling hurtful words or try to shame or belittle others. Remember always that your children are watching you. Make being nice a watchword in your family.
Girls do not have a corner on meanness, of course. Boys can be mean too. But boys tend to be mean with their bodies – they hit, trip, and trick each other – while girls tend to be mean with their mouths. They say mean things and they write mean things. When any of our children hurt another child by gossiping or posting cruelly, this has to stop.
You can stop it. You can teach your children how not to be mean.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.