Over the summer, we took a weekend trip with a few other families. We had a great time, but it is always interesting to be in close proximity to friends in a concentrated amount of time. It’s also interesting when you add a dozen kids to the mix . . . and watch as all of their social dynamics play out.
My oldest daughter is almost six years old, and started kindergarten a few weeks ago. On this particular trip there were a number of other girls, two of whom she considers her best friends. All of these girls are lovely kids and we’re very close to their families, but on this trip I noticed a new and concerning dynamic with the girls my daughter’s age: there was a whole lot of mean-girl behavior and sassy social posturing going on.
Now, let me preface this by saying, I’m not holding out any judgements towards this girls or their parents. Both of the girls in question are a year ahead of my daughter in school, and both of them have teen or tween siblings, so they’ve had a bit more exposure to some of this stuff and I’m guessing they are experimenting with what they’ve observed. But it was so disheartening to watch as, all weekend long, the two of them engaged in mean-spirited and excluding behaviors at the expense of my daughter (or each other). It seemed like every hour there was a new drama, a fresh statement of friendship or lack-thereof, or a new cruel game to be played. “Let’s walk fast so she can’t keep up!” “We have a secret handshake and you don’t know it.” “We want to be alone right now.” “She’s not my friend anymore!” “I don’t like her because she said XYZ.” “You’re not allowed in this room, just the two of us.” On and on and on. Peppered with eye-rolling and plenty of sass.
Honestly, it was hard for me to keep this from coloring the weekend. In part because I was defensive for my daughter and had to deal with her crying fallout each night, but in part because, as an adult, childhood cruelty just objectively drives me bonkers. However, I’m not naive enough to think that my daughter will ever be immune from acting this way. I certainly remember partaking in this kind of dramatic triangulation with two other friends when I was a kid. I was a bit older, but I certainly experimented with power and exclusion at the expense of others.
The whole thing got me wondering about my own daughter, and how I can prevent her from behaving this way in a year or two. I had several talks with her about the behavior she was witnessing and tried to emphasize that her friends were merely trying to feel important in a way that was unfortunately hurtful to others. We talked about positive ways to feel special, and I encouraged her to act on those things instead of trying to exclude others. But I suspect that as she gets a bit more socially sophisticated it will be tempting for her to join in on the mean-girl stuff. It’s enough to make me want to homeschool.
I’m curious – do you think that mean girl behavior is a natural part of growing up? Can it be avoided? Are there ways that we can parent around it, or is this kind of social experimentation an inevitable developmental stage?
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