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Teaching Teenagers How to Deal With Mean Girls

by Liza Blau

"Mean girls" is a term that applies to cliques of teens who use bullying to intimidate others, usually girls. The target is usually another teen they believe is different in some way -- she might be considered unattractive, overweight or it could be a girl they believe was flirting with one of their boyfriends. Mean girl tactics include name-calling, taunting, ridicule, spreading malicious rumors and encouraging other students to ostracize the target. Their victim may become depressed, anxious, develop low self-esteem and become so fearful of the mean girls, she stops going to school.

Don't Mirror Their Behavior

If your teen responds to mean girls by becoming angry, upset, insulting or starts crying, she'll provoke them into further cruelty. Mean girls hope to get a reaction from her, because that's what they thrive on -- making others feel bad. Although mean girls often come across as confident, deep down they're so insecure they need to bully others to feel powerful. Instead, encourage your teenager to maintain her composure and walk away. Suggest that she count down from 10 to help remain calm. If she's in a location that she can't leave, she should act unruffled by their behavior and open a book or pretend to text on her cell phone.

Speak to an Adult

Some teens are reluctant to report mean girls because they're afraid it'll make their behavior worse. But it's important to insist that they report the offending behavior to teachers, school administrators, hallway monitors, guidance counselors and even cafeteria staff. This way, the school staff will be put on alert and ready to intervene, when necessary. Encourage your teen daughter to come to you if there's another incident, day or night. Don't become upset or ask if she provoked the mean girls. Stay calm and listen with empathy and understanding. Validate her feelings by saying, “I don't blame you for being upset" or "I'm sorry you have to go through this."

It's Not Her Fault

Teenagers who are on the receiving end of bullying often feel like it's their fault. Your teen might believe that if she were prettier, smarter, had more stylish clothes or lost weight, the mean girls wouldn't single her out as a target. Help her understand that she's not to blame. It's the mean girls who are behaving badly and lacking -- not her. She might be mistaking the mean girls' bravado for confidence and power, and even envying them. Explain that their self-esteem is based on demeaning others to make themselves feel good -- and truly confident and happy people don't need to do that.

Separating From the Mean Girls

When your teen begins expanding her social circle, the mean girls will hold less power over her, according to teen development specialist Dr. Robyn Silverman. Becoming involved in activities outside the classroom will also help build her self-esteem. Discuss with her which extracurricular activities she's interested in. You might help her out by suggesting certain team sports, such as basketball, tennis or volleyball. Or, she might be more interested in martial arts, skating, bowling or archery. She'll meet others who share her interests and begin interacting with them. If she's creative, sign her up for art, dance, music or acting classes. Many community theaters have programs for teens.

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