Dealing with mean girl behavior in elementary and middle school years

Dealing with mean girl behavior means recognizing these tendencies in our own daughters and teaching them kindness, inclusivity, and respect for others.

We spend so much of our children’s younger years helping them recognize kindness and the importance of being nice to others. We remind them to say please and thank you, and let them know if they’re doing something that may be deemed unkind. So why does it seem as though more and more of us, as parents, are dealing with combatting mean girl behavior in the elementary and middle school years? Now more than ever we need to figure out how to combat this mean-girl behavior. 

Causes of Mean Girl Syndrome

There’s no one good straight answer as to why some sweet girls become mean girls. But experts agree that it often has to do with three major factors. Girls who are insecure can tend to emphasize the importance of popularity and being part of the right crowd. Insecurity can stem from the pressure they feel to be the best at everything, or it can be a by-product of competitiveness. Similarly, mean girl behavior can be learned. Whether it’s from reality television or older siblings, adolescent children are impressionable and may model what they see and hear around them.

Could your daughter be a mean girl?

There are normal ebbs and flows of friendships that occur as our girls get older. They may drift away from certain people they were once close to. They may start to forge new friendships with other girls with whom they have common interests. These are normal shifts and changes that occur in everyone’s lives. Usually, there’s no need for concern. But on occasion, parents may miss certain clues that indicate there are underlying reasons for these friendship changes that go far beyond typical adolescent growth and change.

Sometimes these changes in friendships or interests are a result of wanting to be part of the popular crowd. Fitting in and being just like everyone else, for many young girls, is often the catalyst to typical mean girl behavior. As parents, it is our duty to allow our children to grow and learn to navigate the world around them with a sense of independence. However, they also need us to guide them and remind them that above all else, respect, inclusivity, and kindness are most important. Recognizing mean girl tendencies can be difficult. There are, however, ways parents can determine whether or not they need to be proactive about addressing certain behaviors.

For example, if you notice your daughter becoming increasingly cognizant of her own popularity, you may want to have a conversation about inclusiveness. If her desire to be liked evolves to the shunning other girls or groups of people because they’re not part of a particular circle, this may time to intervene and begin a conversation. Similarly, a girl who is suddenly rude and displaying uncharacteristic traits could be struggling with insecurities that present as bullying behavior or mean girl tendencies.

group of people around laptop

Dealing with cyber bullying

Now, more than ever before, parents are overwhelmed with working from home, while simultaneously being thrust into schooling their children at home. We must turn our attention to social media and how our children are using it. During these stressful and uncertain times, we all tend to need a little bit of a break.

That can mean parents allow just a little bit more technology into their home because after all, that’s where schooling is happening now. It could mean letting kids be on FaceTime or Messenger for Kids when we normally wouldn’t have before, so our daughters can stay in touch with friends and feel connected. We want that sense of normalcy back for our children. But we should be aware that being too lenient can lead to increased cyber-bullying.

Because our kids are likely going to be on the internet more often, it’s important to talk with your kids how they’re going to navigate social media together as a family. You want to allow them the freedom to ‘hang out’ with their friends, but you also want to ensure that they’re being responsible with it. Remind them that there is a person on the other side of the screen and that they should always treat others with kindness and respect.

Using social media to create new bonds

Consider utilizing resources like Zoom for a virtual pajama party. Have friends log on at a certain time and play virtual games. Encourage your daughters to invite other girls that are generally outside of their circle, to the party. Everyone is going through a difficult time right now, this may help ease some of that stress. If nothing else, these invitations will help girls form bonds and make connections they may not have otherwise formed.

There’s another reason this could prove significantly helpful. Utilizing technology for group parties is a great way to include even the most introverted girls. Not having to worry about being there in person is a huge relief for some girls. There’s less pressure in an online setting. A virtual party could help bring different groups of girls together in a safe, comfortable space.

group of girls

Dealing with mean girl behavior

When we first start to recognize bullying behavior in our daughters, we have to take a step back and realize first and foremost, that it is most likely not our fault. Often cliques or being popular and in the right crowd is an unfortunate rite of passage in the tween and teen years. As parents though, it’s up to us to be proactive in helping guide our kids through these difficult years. One way to do this is to continually have conversations with them about their friends. Try to make an effort to stay involved in their lives without being overbearing. It’s a delicate balance of giving and taking, but one that is imperative to the safety, self-confidence, and self-esteem of all children.

Recognize where mean girl behavior comes from

As mentioned, competitiveness can become unhealthy when we expect absolute perfection from our daughters. Healthy competition is a great motivator. But if it goes too far, often that’s when mean girl syndrome kicks in. As parents, there are a few techniques to implement when dealing with mean girl behavior.

First and foremost, we should model the behavior that we wish to see from our daughters. We can’t expect our children to be model citizens if we, ourselves have mean girl tendencies. Be cognizant of how you talk about other women around your daughters, they’re listening and looking to you for guidance. 

Similarly, monitor the types of television programs your daughters are watching to ensure the characters are treating others with respect. If you do notice issues in television shows, don’t just forbid your child from watching them. Keep an open dialog, watch the show but then talk about and help her recognize the problems. Discuss inclusivity and popularity and role-play ways that the show could have better handled a situation. Let your daughters know that friendship shifts are natural. It’s important to recognize when they’re not being inclusive or shunning other girls or groups.

Dealing with mean girl behavior often means that we may have to look inward. It’s hard but we need to consider that there may be an underlying cause for the behavior. Are we putting too much pressure on our daughters? Are they stressed and feeling insecure? We should, of course, allow for healthy competition, which is a natural part of life. But it’s important to express the importance of self-esteem without creating unhealthy competition or rivalries.

Combatting mean girl behavior in elementary and middle school

The elementary and middle school years are often when these friendship shifts and mean girl tendencies tend to emerge. Girls are navigating a whole host of emotions, hormones, and feelings at this age. It is during these years that we can help them work toward being strong, self-confident and kind to their peers.

When life finally gets back to normal and we’re able to go out and about freely, have your children expand their circle of friends. Much like the example with the online Zoom party, try doing that same thing in ‘real life.’  This could mean inviting a few people from one group of friends to an event with a different group of friends to allow new friendships to flourish. 

Additionally, sibling relationships are the ideal place to start when teaching young children compassion. We should routinely expect our children to get along with their siblings. We can guide them toward effective conflict resolution and build a sense of empathy without doing the work for them. It’s this relationship building that they will take with them into all of their interpersonal relationships in the future.

How to stop mean girl behavior before it starts

Teaching our daughters to speak up for themselves and others is invaluable. It will go far to help in dealing with mean girl behavior. We want to raise children who do the right thing. If we work toward teaching them assertiveness we can help them help others who may be experiencing bullying or unfair treatment by their peers.

Parenting is no easy task, and raising daughters who are compassionate, kind and inclusive can be difficult in today’s world. We can model the behavior we wish to see and recognizing when something seems off with our daughter’s behavior. By monitoring what they’re listening to and watching, and keeping the lines of communication open, we can help to combat mean girl syndrome and raise a new generation of amazing young women.