How many times have you heard the phrase “mean girls?” I’d be willing to bet it’s a lot. And thanks to the wildly popular movie with that name, we clearly know it’s a thing.
I grew up with three sisters, and of course, we all had our run-ins with the mean girls. And at times, we even took part in “mean girl” behavior.
But when I became a mother to two boys, it never really crossed my mind they would go through the same trials and tribulations as my sisters and I did, since I didn’t remember seeing any boy drama growing up. (Now, I know I just wasn’t paying attention, because I was too wrapped up in my own social life.)
And I can’t tell you how many times I heard things like “boys are so much easier” from parents trying to explain that I wouldn’t have as much drama to deal with, after finding out I was having a boy.
But as soon as my son entered middle school, I quickly realized that wasn’t the case at all. I felt silly for believing boys weren’t as sensitive, didn’t take things as personally, or that they didn’t struggle with friendship the way girls did.
They are human beings with feelings, so of course they do.
One afternoon, while my son was in the 6th grade, he came home after having an argument with his best friend. He was acting drastically different. And while I tried for days to get him to tell me what was wrong, he didn’t utter a word about it.
I didn’t find out what happened between them until a few days later, when I got a call from the principal telling me they had an altercation in the hallway between classes.
After their shoving match, the principal got them to talk. Apparently, this boy, whom he had met at the beginning of the year and quickly became best friends with, decided he’d had enough of my son and started ignoring him — and my son didn’t know why.
While I believe there are always two sides to every story, it sounds like my son was hurt, because they went from being friends, to his friend then ignoring him and saying hurtful things about him that weren’t true. And when my son confronted him, it quickly got physical.
Instead of feeling like he could come to me and talk about it, my son stuffed his feelings, keeping them to himself for fear he would look like “a sissy.” He said he’d never go to me or his teachers, because “that’s just not what you do.”
I’ve always been there for my son and have wanted to talk about his feelings with him. And while I never told him to suck it up, or just ignore his friend, I could tell by the things he said that there is a stigma surrounding boys and their friendships and how they deal with problems — so he was getting it from somewhere.
I spoke with Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist with a background in school counseling, who told me boys are taught from the media and American culture they should be independent at a very young age, and that men should always be “tough.”
She warns that even in families that are “highly supportive and more emotionally conscious,” our society is still very tough-centric, so our young boys are confusing being tough with being masculine, even though they are two very different things.
Manly suggests that having a strong dialogue around this issue at a very young age will “affirm the importance of acknowledging hurt feelings and other emotions.” They are better able to cope and deal with their feelings in these situations instead of lashing out towards other kids, or feeling the need to get more kids “on their side” when they feel angry, sad, or upset.
Manly also says it’s very important to acknowledge the “mean” boys’ behavior as well as the victim’s without blame in order to find out where the true feelings stem from.
While I realize all of this is part of growing up and maturity, there isn’t a lot out there on the topic of “mean boys.” And I can assure you, they do exist. Boys’ friendships are not drama-free; they still get very hurt and don’t always feel like there is a safe place to deal with their feelings.
It’s up to us as their parents to recognize the signs (usually changes in mood, irritability, and not wanting to open up), and to help them cope with it in a positive, healthy way without feeling ashamed. We must remember to treat them the same way we would if it were our daughters going through the same situation, and give them a safe place to vent or cry.