It’s been 12 years since the American teen comedy film ‘Mean Girls’ was first screened in the United Kingdom and ‘mean girls’ have stayed around since. In every high school, board room and shop floor similar scenes are played out each day with less amusing consequences.
We’re told that boys are responsible for more bullying incidents than girls , but that girls engage in a different sort of bullying (Silva et al 2013): less public, more insidious and using relationships as a commodity or a tool, for bargaining or progress. Mean girls tease, gossip, insult, ignore, exclude and intimidate either in person or through social media. These traits have also been noticed in adult females who bully and some have suggested girls who bully may continue these behaviours into adulthood.
It will likely come as no surprise to you that mean girls existed before 2004. In fact there is a ‘mean girl’ story in the Bible ( 1 Samuel chapter 1). The practice or custom circa 1000 BC of men having multiple wives must have led to some spectacular examples of ‘relational aggression’ among women. Elkanah had two wives: Hannah he loved best and made no secret of this, Penninah he loved less but she had provided him with offspring. Having children was the ‘trump card’ in those days and Penninah tactically used it to gain revenge on the woman (Hannah) who had ‘stolen’ her husband’s heart, taunting her rival about her lack of children till she was reduced to tears and no appetite.
Sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers (and in fact any woman who has significant input into a young girl’s life), God wants us to be kind to each other.
How we relate to others is perhaps our strongest testimony of the ‘God life’ in us. (“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13,35) It is also our most powerful witness and example to the young people who look up to us. Positive parental influences have been shown to not only prevent children from bullying others but prevent them also from being victims of bullying ( Wang et al 2009)
Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The kindness referred to here is seen in the woman who chooses to try to understand the person behind the nasty comment, her insecurities, her personal painful story. Forgiveness is a gift from God and the main beneficiary is the forgiver. Kind people are not weak people. Kindness lends strength to character, and when used against bullies often has surprising consequences.
Matthew 7:12 (ESV)
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
I guess kindness and empathy go hand in hand. Empathy is however a sophisticated notion involving complex neuronal pathways. Arnold (2006) describes it as:
- Attunement (focusing on the needs of another closely so as to meet that need),
- De-centering (the ability to temporarily ‘step outside’ of our own world in order to see things from a different angle).
- Introspection (thinking about ourselves and what we do, or plan to do ,from the point of view of how we relate to others)
It’s perhaps no wonder that young humans need time to perfect this skill. One of the best ways to nurture empathy in young people is by parental modelling of this behaviour,being that unselfish, kind-hearted woman who allows the fruit of God’s spirit to flourish in her: kindness, patience peace, joy, love, self -control.
1 Corinthians 13:4 (ESV)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
How we compare ourselves to other women will not be lost on our daughters, nieces or grandchildren. If we choose to put other women down or judge ourselves by other women’s standards, we send powerful messages to young ones.
The thing that struck me most about the film “Mean Girls” was the ugly and pervasive altered self ego in so many of these young women. There is a fine balance between looking after ourselves physically and emotionally and developing an unhealthy preoccupation with self. Likewise, the dividing line is also blurred between encouraging your child to reach their full potential and hoisting your child to the top of the pile never stopping to check on the wellbeing of the children who form the base of the edifice you have created.
It’s good to build your child’s self esteem and to celebrate the wonderful little people they are but that self esteem will remain fragile if it’s built at the expense of valuing others. If you can be mean to other women, your young daughter will always wonder whether someday, sometime, you may be mean to her, no-matter how much you tell her otherwise.
As women of this generation we have a chance to make a difference, one simple act of kindness at a time.
And finally, all of the above is related to the longer term prevention of bulling among girls and women. If your child is being bullied and you need advice here is a helpful link to the stopbullying.gov website.