The movie Mean Girls is not just an exaggerated cult teen drama. Girls may be less physically aggressive than boys, but they are just as capable of being mean in other ways that may come across as harmless. If your daughter is being bullied at school, talk to her about how to recognize signs of manipulation and ways to preserve her self-esteem. Remind her that her worth is not based on her popularity in middle school.
Finding Your Way in Middle School
Kim Cook, the former president of the Illinois School Health Association argues that female relational aggression “typically peaks around middle school. You see a lot of that happening because of the transitions that young girls are going through, as far as their physical, emotional and social growth. They are trying to find their place in the world. Sometimes, some girls will kind of fight their way to the top.” Girls tend to be more social than boys and place a higher value on talking about emotions, social acceptance, and fitting in. While boys may be more likely to be rejected by experiencing name-calling and getting into physical fights, girls are more likely to experience bullying as “friend problems.”
How Relational Aggression Works
The goal of bullying is to make people feel socially undesirable and question their identity. It is an exercise of social power and control. As middle schoolers leave the safety of single-classrooms in elementary school and are thrown into the world of class changes and large cafeterias, relational aggression peaks as self-selected social groups become more important. Girls may be less likely to call their rejection “bullying” as girls bully others through cyberbullying, excluding others, ignoring others, teasing, gossiping, keeping secrets, backstabbing, spreading rumors, and using hostile body language.
As a result of being bullied in school, girls may suffer from low self esteem, worry excessively about how they are perceived, withdraw socially, struggle academically, or refuse to go to school altogether. Or they may act out by taking their anger out on relationships with family or turning to self-harm to manage the pain of rejection.
What to do if your Daughter is Being Bullied at School
Don’t overreact. It is natural to feel angry and helpless as you want what’s best for your daughter and want her to find good people that see her the way you do, but remember that she feels just as angry and helpless. You may know the parents of the girls who are bullying her or they may have been close friends at one point, but neither your daughter or her bullies are to blame. They are both struggling with the transition to middle school and finding where they belong socially.
Listen to her experiences. If she has been rejected at school, she may feel like she doesn’t have anyone to turn to for social support. Check in about her day and encourage her not to isolate. Let her know that you will be there whenever she’s ready to talk about what’s been going on and reach out for help.
Role-play situations. While you may empathize with her, don’t jump to giving advice. Ask her what she thinks she can do the next time she is in a similar situation and brainstorm possible responses together. She may not be able to control their behavior, but she can control how she responds.
Teach her how to advocate for herself. Remind her that the girls bullying her are not as confident as they claim to be. They may continue to pick on her if they know it will elicit a response. Teach her how to recognize signs that she is being manipulated. Encourage her to stand up to bullies by telling them what they are doing is mean and that she knows she deserves better.
Encourage her to switch schools. While mean girls are at every school, changing schools can give your daughter a clean slate where no one knows her history and she is more likely to be able to start over and make new friends. Asheville Academy is an accredited boarding school that offers specific support for girls who have struggled academically and socially in other schools as a result of bullying.
Asheville Academy can help
Asheville Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10-14. Our students commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning differences, and attachment issues. Many of our students have been bullied in school and struggle with social skills in social groups. We are a relationship-based program that focuses on building meaningful face-to-face connections through teamwork, group therapy, experiential activities, and small classrooms that helps girls heal from the effects of bullying.