By Debby Shulman
I think by sixth grade you see it coming.
Dropping your daughter off at school and seeing the ‘group’ standing in a tight circle, all dressed in similar clothes: The North Face, Uggs, and skinny jeans; the suburban gang wear uniform of choice. In slow motion, you lean over your steering wheel just as they collectively turn and watch your daughter try to find someone she knows … and then you catch a glimpse of what looks like a nod, a sneer, and then it’s gone. Just a whisper of rude, just a brief moment that challenged your last gulp of coffee … and maybe your sweet little girl, with her innocent attitude didn’t even notice. But then, Ms. Big Black SUV is laying on her horn at you for slowing down in the “drop-off” lane and you have to move on …
Or maybe you ARE the Mom in the big, black SUV and your daughter is shouting at you to move up in that drop-off lane because her friends are waiting and SHE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF THE CAR. Honking because SHE told you to, you slowly turn your eyes as she jumps out of your moving car and races towards the group of girls just as they open up their circle and shower your daughter with hugs. HUGS? They’ve just arrived at school for God’s sake, who needs to hug at 7:45 in the morning? But there they are, every single one hanging onto your daughter, who casually flips her hair and turns to catch your eye as you weave out of the drop-off lane in order to let someone else in on the fun. Maybe it occurs to you how nice it is that your daughter has so many friends, she seems to always be in charge and in that so-called “popular group.” But then, maybe you think otherwise.
How do you know when you are the Mom of the Mean Queen or the Boy Bully?
What signals go off that make you think you just might be in for more than you bargained for? And what do you do when it becomes clear your son or daughter has positioned himself or herself the Team Captain of Junior High? Not an easy position to be in and most often times, you are the last to know.
Perhaps you’ll run into that woman with the sweet daughter who was, at one point in time, always sleeping over at your house. And she’ll nod graciously but give you that fake, flat-lined smile, awkwardly moving her cart around you at the grocery store when you attempt to say hello. Or how about that embarrassing phone call about your son’s rude behavior at a weekend party, or the time you walked into the gym to watch a volleyball game, and several parents eyed you over their readers, glanced at one another and pretty much ignored you …
Girlfriend, your child IS the Mean Queen or the Boy Bully.
There’s no doubt we all know truly wonderful and warm people who somehow have given birth to the asshole that makes fun of everyone who can’t catch a ball.
Lovely, kind and so genuinely sincere, it is hard to believe their offspring possess so much evil. And we all collectively wonder and talk about her behind her back: “Does she know? Should we tell her?”
Maybe she does and maybe we won’t.
I cannot believe parents don’t know when they have a social-climbing Mean Queen or Bully on their hands — the signs are out there; what happens in school IS happening at home and it often looks like this:
- Your child is snarky, demanding and controlling: bossing around siblings and speaking rudely at home.
- She spends a lot of time talking about who’s popular and who is not. She plans group activities with the same exclusive group of girls and plays favorites among them. Your son runs with a competitive group of athletic friends, and they all kiss up to your son in a bizarre “Lord of the Flies” kind of way.
- She tells lots of secrets. In your rear-view mirror you see her cupping the ear of the one closest to her, whispering something that elicits hoots of laughter … even if there are others in the car. Your son hangs out the car window in the school parking lot, yelling sarcastic remarks to other students, pointing and laughing at people.
- Both will insult friends, siblings and sometimes adults in a disrespectful tone, and then say, “just joking” when called out on their behavior.
- They snub and ignore old friends, who are no longer a part of their inner network of wannabes.
So what do you do if you have one? Demand they invite back all the discarded innocent friends left in their wake? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I would imagine the first step is to rein them in.
Every time you permit that whispering in the back of the car, every time you overhear a conversation that burns with malicious gossip, and every time they lash out at you, you enable their sense of POWER AND CONTROL.
Every time you ignore some misconduct or entitled attitude because you don’t want to ‘upset’ them only reinforces their belief that they cannot be controlled.
But see, that’s your job. Our kids are LOOKING for limits, LOOKING for guidance and LOOKING for YOU to say NO.
Stop trying to befriend your son or daughter by not taking charge of a situation or pretending to look the other way. When she wants to create that cliquey Halloween group costume (something I despise), or tag onto one, have the guts to say NO. When you catch your son laughing and making fun of people with his friends, call him out on it. The parents who choose NOT to do this and who permit this activity to go on in their presence silently validate the insidious, brazen behavior, essentially condoning it by their lack of engagement.
Effective and empowered parenting does not come in the form of quiet consent.
If you feel that vibe, if you suspect your son or daughter is destroying another soul at school or weekend gatherings, say something. Listen in the car for conversation that makes fun of others, descriptions of incidents that left someone out, laughing at the expense of others. And then, say something. To the group. All of them.
I dare you.
The “Yes” Mom never wins and neither does her children.
As the Mean Queen gets older, the stakes get higher. Being cruel to other girls gives a great buzz and a wicked ‘rush’ that paves the way for dangerous, attention-seeking behavior. Sure enough, the Mean Queen ends up in the back of a car, in front of a judge, or the punch line of everyone else’s jokes. The Boy Bully finally meets his match by way of a BIGGER boy bully who is not going to take the crap he’s doling out … then he becomes the butt of everyone else’s jokes, slowly becoming just another burned-out, angry kid who thought he was better than everyone else.
Even parents have to stand up to the Mean Queen. If you don’t, who will?
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.