I recently spoke to a friend of mine who told me a heart-wrenching story about how a group of seventh-grade girls literally got up from a lunch table and moved when her daughter sat down there.
They certainly had a good reason to do it... After all, an eighth-grade hottie asked her daughter to the dance and (gasp) she said yes. Unbeknownst to her, the boy was already verbally spoken for and off limits. Yes, I know this sounds like Mean Girls, Part Deux, but in fact, it wasn't. It's just another day in a garden-variety middle school in a small New York town.
As much as the girls' vile behavior upset me, it's what my friend told me next that really got my blood boiling. When my friend called one of the girls' moms -- someone she has known for more than a decade -- the response was this: "Oh, I don't think it was a big deal. I just don't think they are as close anymore. I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding."
Um, what the what what?
I get it. It is a hard thing to imagine that your sweet little girl can also be Regina George. But are we really that naive? Are we so blinded by the love we feel for our kids that we refuse to believe they are capable of unkind behavior towards someone else's child, someone else's little girl?
I worry sometimes about my own three daughters. Although I know their hearts are kind, I wonder if their minds are strong enough to know right from wrong in a moment of weakness, of jealousy, of rage. Or when they see someone they admire acting cruel, will they have the courage to act appropriately? It's a lot to ask of a young girl, and it's crazy to think they won't make mistakes.
To be clear, I do not believe that one bad incident does a mean girl make. There is a difference between a child who makes a bad judgment call, and one who out-and-out torments another kid. And there certainly will always be misunderstandings and miscommunications. However, I do believe that the more excuses we make for our children, the more likely they are to do it again. And again. And again.
I read somewhere once that children need to be raised, not managed. This is so true. If you hear yourself uttering one of these phrases below, ask yourself: Is this how I really want my child to act?
Then take a moment to close your eyes, and imagine it's your child, your little girl who is being treated poorly. How would you want another parent to respond? How would you feel if your child was ostracized, and you received one of the following excuses?
5. Your daughter doesn't seem to be interested in being part of the group anymore, so my daughter and the rest of the girls just don't talk to her as much. Not everyone has to be best friends. Oh, the classic passive-aggressive "it's not me, it's you" defense. That will work well when she grows up and is expected to actually get along with people "outside of her group."
4. My daughter said it really wasn't that big of a deal -- and shouldn't the girls work it out on their own? What if the police said that to Charles Manson's cult? "I know Charlie is a little crazy, but really, can't you guys just figure out how to get along with him?" Seriously, when did we get so lazy as parents that we can't take 15 minutes to talk to our kids about the difference between wrong and right? Why will we drive them hours across state lines to sports tournaments but not spend ten minutes to sort out bad behavior? Yes, kids need to learn to work it out, but there are also times when parents need to step in and course-correct. All it takes is one parent to be brave enough to actually, well, parent their kid, and it can make a huge difference.
3. It's not my daughter's fault that your daughter is so sensitive. Seriously? There are millions of documented incidents of girls out-and-out traumatizing other girls -- some of which are supposed to be their best friends! Don't automatically blame the other girl. Make your daughter take at least a small portion of responsibility. Reflecting on one's behavior and understanding your role in a situation is a pretty important life skill.
2. It wasn't really my daughter being mean, it was her friends. The innocent bystander excuse. Lovely. Because as long as you don't participate, you're not really doing anything wrong.
1. Girls will be girls. This is the one that really gets my pants on fire. Since the dawn of time we have been saying girls will be girls. As women, are we not tired of this? As parents, haven't we all had enough? Wouldn't it be nice to take the negative connotation off of this phrase and turn it into a positive? This phrase should be abolished. Sometimes a girl just is actually mean, but most mean girls are created, not born that way. We should never use this excuse for bad behavior.
My friend's daughter will be OK. Fortunately she had other friends to fall back on, and she learned a tough lesson early on in life -- but that doesn't mean every girl treated poorly will have that happy ending.
Let's stop making excuses for our daughters. Let's start raising them up by not accepting excuses for putting others down.
It starts with one brave parent.