Author Equips Young Women With Tools to Combat 'Mean Girls'
- Friday, November 19, 2004
What images come to mind when you think of bullying? Perhaps it's the frowning face of an insecure and domineering boy who leads his wimpy, freckled buddies to steal a skinny boy's lunch money. Perhaps it's even worse - maybe you envision a violent pack of young men looking for trouble or imagine a full-blown, organized gang.
We may worry about our sons becoming victims, but what about our daughters? Few of us think of the catty girl who, followed by her giggling friends, makes the life of the shy girl a living nightmare. But girls bullying other girls - and engaging in lesser forms of meanness - have plagued young ladies for generations. Author Haley DiMarco, a victim of female intimidation during her high school years, has written a new book for girls living in fear of other girls. It's titled Mean Girls: Facing Your Beauty Turned Beast. Here, Haley gives Crosswalk readers the inside scoop on an issue that will affect girls across the nation as the school year continues to unfold.
Crosswalk: From your experiences working with youth, how often do you think bullying occurs among girls?
Haley: At first glance -- upon walking into any classroom -- I wouldn't be surprised if 99% of the girls have some kind of Mean Girl problem. The extent of that may vary, and not all of it is considered bullying. Girls are inherently relational and with that comes gossip, slander, cattiness, etc. and it effects just about all of us. From a statistical point of view, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says that one third of girls surveyed said they had been too afraid of other girls to go to school at some point in their lives. Of course, bullying is an extreme form of mean, but petty meanness between girls can be just as devastating in the long term.
Crosswalk: What does a "mean girl" look like and what are a few reasons members of the otherwise gentler, more nurturing sex act so mean!?
Haley: Mean Girls look like any other girl; they come in varying sizes, shapes and degrees. They can hate you because you’re different, better or worse. They generally have a reason for being mean, something you said or did, that sets them off. Most of the time they feel justified in ‘hating’ you and will do all they can to ‘get you back,’ even if it’s for being more successful than them.
I think that we all turn a little closer to mean the day that boys become important in our lives. Around middle school age, girls start vying for the attention of the opposite sex and that seems to be when disaster hits. Competition is a dangerous thing between girls when it comes to boys. The gloves come off, so to speak.
I think what makes girls mean is the lie they have believed that they have to control their lives, and by so doing must control the lives of others. This concept of looking out for number one has infiltrated even churched girls. We seem to have lost the sense of dying to self and clung to the idea that we have to please ourselves and in order to do that we must arrange our world the way we want it to be, even if it means manipulating or hurting other girls.
Crosswalk: How has the Internet become a tool for bullies?
Haley: The Internet has created a smorgasbord for mean. It allows girls to be mean at the click of a button and to maintain a degree of anonymity that they so love when dishing out dirt. Weblogging (blogging) has become an entertaining tool for girls to use to slam one another to a broader audience than we had before the advent of the computer.
Of course, chat rooms allow for mass slander and name-calling. And we can't forget about the ease of use for posting embarrassing photos of girls taken without their knowledge or consent. The list could go on and on. If you can think of it -- they've probably done it.
Crosswalk: What are a couple of good ways a girl can lose the mean girl in her life?
Haley: If you think about it, you can't really stop anyone from being mean if they don't want to change, short of locking them in a closet (and then you might be called a mean girl!) There are things you can do to reduce the impact mean has on you and continuing the cycle of mean. Most importantly, a girl can get rid of the these four words - "But she started it!" Revenge has to be removed from her vocabulary. When we commit to allowing people to slander us, gossip about us, hurt us, etc. we commit to giving up revenge. After all, Jesus is the one we are to imitate and he never retaliated, he never got angry over anything that anyone did to himself, only what they did to the Father. (1 Peter 2:22-23; Luke 6:27-30)
Crosswalk: What’s a girl to do if her faith makes her the target of a mean girl?
Haley: The best thing to do is to thank God. 1 Peter 4:14-16 says that it glorifies Him when we suffer for our faith. I suggest that if she is a target that she makes sure it is because of her honoring God and not because she lords it over other girls or is judgmental in anyway.
I warn girls to beware that they aren’t taking the credit for suffering for their faith when they are really suffering from being insufferable judges who care more for the law than for God’s children. But if they check their motives and find that they are pure, then I encourage them and tell them, "Bravo, the Father is the one to please and you are doing just as you should. Remember what matters most in life and stick to that path."
Crosswalk: What steps can parents take to stop the "cycle of mean" among girls and protect their own daughters in the process?
Haley: I wrote Mean Girls as a preventative step on girl bullying. As a preventative measure against bullying, I suggest that parents encourage their daughters to love the mean girl, to not be offended, and to learn to laugh at herself. Things can easily escalate if parents take over and get involved, calling other parents, threatening teachers and students with action. I suggest that parents talk about the best ways to live like Jesus. Practice turning the other cheek, i.e.- not gossiping back, not taking things too seriously, being gentle, humble and kind. I'm not proposing they all become doormats, just that they live for Christ and not themselves. They live to serve God, not themselves or their emotions. Freedom from self-promotion is a true freedom indeed.
Crosswalk: How has your ability to move past your bad experiences with mean girls and build happy, healthy friendships with other women enriched your life?
Haley: My close female friends allow me to flourish. They are the only ones who truly understand me. They give me the opportunity to heal and to grow. They are priceless to me. I used to think only guys were fun to be with, until I let go and trusted girls. Now I feel such a bond of femininity that I never knew before and I adore it. They are truly my best friends in the world.
For more insight and info on mean girls, go to www.meangirls.net. For more information on Haley DiMarco and other books she's written, you can also visit www.hungryplanet.net.
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