Most girls experience the mean girl syndrome during middle school. Girls at that stage of life are experiencing incredible changes, both physically and mentally, and often find themselves jockeying for position in one of two categories: they become ringleaders or followers.
There is a third, less-discussed category: girls who do their own thing. They walk a tightrope between the ringleaders and the followers, a sort of Switzerland, you might say, trying to keep out of the drama and keep the peace.
My daughters are much like me. They never followed the rest of the pack. They do their own thing, and strive to remain true to who they are. And they stick up for victims of bullying.
Still, they have been on the receiving end of middle school bullying.
When my oldest daughter was in eighth grade, her friends decided one day that she shouldn’t be allowed to sit at their table at lunch anymore. The leader of the group announced to the others, and they agreed without a second’s hesitation. In one fell swoop, and for no other reason than because the leader wanted it, she’d been ostracized by people she’d considered friends. (She kept this story to herself for years, only telling me recently.)
Last week, my youngest daughter, who is now in eighth grade, came home in tears. She said that she and another girl had left the lunch table to use the restroom and, upon their return, found that the girls they’d been sitting with had left the table. They were sending her a message, loud and clear, that they didn’t accept her. The reason? Because they just didn’t like her. They told her they’d been lying all along about being her friends, and they all really hated her.
As a mother, my first instinct is naturally to protect my child. I was enraged.
I was beside myself with shock at how truly cold-hearted girls can be. My girl was getting bullied! I tried to console my daughter as best I could. I told her that there was nothing wrong with her. These girls might have something awful going on in their lives that no one knows about to make them act this way. They were insecure and lashing out, and she just happened to be there. I was saying everything I could think of to make her know that it wasn’t her—it was them who had issues.
But I felt as though my words were weak. I could only hold her and insist on how wonderful she is, how smart and funny she is, and how much she’s loved by those who matter.
I was talking on the phone a few days later with my oldest daughter, who recently began her own life far from home, about what was happening with her sister. She could sympathize, as she’d been there herself. But her perspective changed after graduation. Living through the mean-spiritedness of middle school bullying was hard at the time, but now she knows that the problem really wasn’t her.
She finally understood that there was nothing wrong with her.
She’s a good person and a strong woman, and she believes that the other girls were envious. And now all she feels is empathy for them. I nearly wept.
I recently read a phrase that really struck home with me. It said that women should lift each other up, not tear each other down. And it’s true. Our daughters need to be taught that lesson early in life, so that future generations of girls won’t have to go through middle school bullying; so that perhaps, one day, there won’t be any mean girls left.