One night, during my senior year of high school, I received a text message from a group of girls telling me I was fat and needed to lose weight.
At the time I felt bad and embarrassed for them. It honestly stunned me that people could be so downright mean and insecure.
Now that I am married with a daughter of my own, my thoughts about it have slightly shifted. I find myself wondering about those girls' moms. Where were they? And why didn't they teach their daughters to be kind?
Years later, I ran into one of those girls at the store. We both had our young daughters with us. I didn't have ill feelings toward her and honestly assumed that we had both moved past the petty immaturity that tends to accompany those high school relationships. We were both wives and mothers now. Surely things that happened then would seem silly now -- even laughable. So, in passing, I said hello.
With a cold glance, and without a word, she walked away.
I was stunned.
It was at that moment, I realized two things:
1. Mean girls grow up to be mean moms.
2. Little girls learn from their moms how to be mean girls.
This "mean girl" gene doesn't come on intentionally. I don't think there are many people who pride themselves on being mean. However, we live in a technology-driven world that, in my opinion, breeds competitive feelings and makes that mean behavior all too common.
Social media has created an atmosphere where people feel entitled to peek in on every aspect of your life. People feel entitled to say whatever they want. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed mothers, via social media, being downright nasty to one another about anything and everything. It is shocking and sad. But if it starts with us, it has to end with us. It's our responsibility, as mothers, to do everything in our power to make sure we aren't (even unknowingly) raising mean girls.
Be aware of yourself. Being a teacher, I can assure you that your children hear you. (And often quote you.) They observe you. They mimic you. They hear you tell your husband how that woman on Facebook "is so full of herself." They listen when you are on the phone with your girlfriend gossiping about the mom down the street. They even take in the critical things you say about your own appearance. They hear you. And then they become a product of everything they hear -- a product of you.
Teach them how to give a compliment. Doesn't this seem so simple? Complimenting is a lost art. We live in a self-centered society, and it shows. By teaching your children how to compliment others (and themselves), you are encouraging them to find things they like about other people.
Encourage positive conversation. I am a firm believer that when we start being pessimistic and negative, we train our brains to automatically think that way. By encouraging and participating in positive conversations with our daughters, we can help train them to think in an optimistic way. It's hard to be mean when you see life and see others in a positive light.
Teach them to root for the underdog. I have my mom to thank for this life lesson. When we were growing up, my mom would always remind us to "root/cheer/vote for the underdog." Whether it was during student council elections, team tryouts or just a regular day, she would always say that to us as we got out of the car. Promoting this message teaches children to be aware of others. It will teach them kindness and empathy. And think of it this way: At some point in time, we will all be the underdog. How would you want to be treated?
Praise niceness. Nice is a simple world. So simple, its powerful meaning often goes unnoticed. Growing up, "Because Nice Matters" was our family motto. My mom plastered the phrase all around the house, and now I have done the same. Being nice does matter. We need to make kindness a conscious lesson. We need to compliment our daughters when they demonstrate kindness. In a world that values looks, achievements, accomplishments and awards, let your home value kindness.
I hope one day, if I run into that high school acquaintance again, she will accept the smile I throw her way. But even if she doesn't, I'm just going to keep on smiling. After all, nobody is perfect. But everyone can be nice.