Why Mean Girls Are Common in Middle School

Group of girls talking about another girl
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As if middle school wasn't difficult enough, these years also see a peak in bullying behavior. Both girls and boys are likely to encounter bullying behavior. In fact, girls may even be more likely to experience stressful encounters with obnoxious and aggressive peers. Educate your child about bullies and other tormentors by understanding the bullying culture. 

What Is a Mean Girl?

The label "mean girls" is an expression used to describe girls who exhibit anti-social behavior known as relational aggression. The term was popularized by the movie Mean Girls, starring Lindsay Lohan. Mean girl behavior includes gossip, verbal put-downs of others, bullying, backstabbing, and using others to get ahead. Girls who are friendly one minute and mean the next may be referred to as "frenemies."

Mean girls can be found at school, on the bus, and at extra-curricular activities. They are particularly good at turning friend against friend, and they target girls of whom they are jealous, or who stick out from the crowd. Mean girls thrive on drama and often resort to cyberbullying to torment their victims. It can be difficult to spot a mean girl, as they are experts at bullying under the radar of teachers, other students, and other adults. Mean girls may be considered to be popular with their peers, but that may not always be the case.

Also known as: Divas, gossip girls, meanies, frenemies, queen bees, and poison pals

How to Help Your Daughter With a Mean Girl 

The best way to help your daughter manage a bully or a mean girl is to talk about the behaviors and to let your child know that you're always there to talk and listen. If your tween knows she can turn to you for advice, she'll not feel so alone. Help your child develop skills to deal with gossip or alienation. Role-playing is a great way to help your tween deal with potential problems with her peers. 

You can also make sure your tween develops as many healthy friendships as possible so that she'll have peer support if she ever encounters a bully or mean girl. Friendships can be made in school, as well as in extra-curricular activities.

Talk with your tween about what makes a true friend, and the qualities that she would like her friends to have. Suggest ways she could support her friends if they encounter the class mean girl. Talk about how to spot a bully or mean girl, as well as ways to prevent possible encounters or altercations.

What not to do: Ignore or deny. If your child is complaining about bullies, it's time to pay attention. Bullying behavior can be dangerous, and your tween isn't likely to know how to deal with the problem all on her own. If left unchecked, bullying can damage your tween's self-esteem and make her school life miserable. If necessary, consider contacting the school for support. Your child's teachers or school counselor may be able to help your tween.

A Word From Verywell

One of the best ways to get your tween or teen to speak to you about feeling excluded, picked on, or ostracized by their peers is to connect with her in meaningful ways. When you ask questions about her day, an event she attended, or interactions you observed, be specific. Statements such as: "Tell me about how your gymnastics practice went with the new team." or "I noticed those girls were laughing at you when you were walking toward the car. What's going on?" can open the door to healthy and productive conversations.

Stay away from being overly critical of your child's peers and curb the temptation to solve the peer problem from your perspective. Instead, listen, offer support, and come up with a solution together.

By Jennifer O'Donnell
Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.