Who remembers that iconic line from the movie Mean Girls? The part where Regina George tries to sit with her “friends” and they inform her that she can’t sit with them because she wasn’t wearing pink. I mean, Regina was no angel but the movie really brought much needed attention to how girls can treat each other, and it isn’t always pretty. The last thing you ever want to hear from your child is that they were being excluded, or worse, that someone was just straight up being mean to them.
This week alone, I have had three close friends of mine reach out and share with me that their daughters are having some issues with their friend groups. The first friend shared that her daughter came home feeling badly because someone on the bus told her that she wasn’t pretty. Could you imagine a third grader saying that to someone for absolutely no reason. Well, believe it, because sadly it happens.
The second situation was from my friend who has a daughter in fourth grade. Her daughter has been coming home upset because every day one of her classmates will say something about her clothing being weird or her glasses being nerdy. She’s a quiet kid and although she does stand up for herself in the moment, she’s coming home defeated and feeling badly about herself. Her self esteem is starting to take a hit…at age nine…let’s let that sink in. She also has a few friends that only talk to her when their other friends are unavailable. Apparently, three is still a crowd.
The third story I heard was from middle school. A student wasn’t asked to move lunch tables when the people she usually sat with decided to move somewhere else. She was left sitting alone and felt very vulnerable in the moment. No one was outwardly mean to her, but can we all remember a time growing up when we had to eat lunch by ourselves and were an afterthought to our peers? It stings. Some of you may read this and think that kids need to learn how to go with the flow and to speak up for themselves. They do, to an extent. But wouldn’t it be nice to remind our kids, especially the outgoing ones, to look out for the kids who need a friend? To give them a wave or a smile, or better yet, even an invitation to sit with them?
Everyone wants to feel accepted and loved. This goes for both kids and adults. At what age are kids forgetting what they were taught in kindergarten about including everyone and using kind words? Realistically I know that kids grow up and they start changing. They find friends that are similar to themselves and they gravitate towards one another. It makes sense. But what doesn’t have to happen with growth is being mean to others and excluding one another on purpose. I genuinely feel that kids are so afraid of being excluded that they will go along with others, even if they are mean, just so they won’t be on the receiving end of it. I’m not saying that kids won’t stick up for each other, but more often than not, they just want to be included and will usually stay quiet.
I was very quiet growing up. I had my close groups of friends that I still have to this day, but that was it. When I got to high school, I stayed with those friends. No one else got to know me and I was known as the shy kid, if people even knew me at all. I’m very outgoing now, but I still carry that part of my life with me and it reminds me to go out of my way to make others comfortable. I always try to include everyone when planning events and to always smile and wave when I see a familiar (or unfamiliar!) face.
There are so many issues with social dynamics at every age. I noticed that it really starts to show in fourth grade. It seems to be the year for both boys and girls. At this age, they are more independent and more aware. Kids already have their friend groups/ cliques. The kids who play soccer stick together, the football team has their group and the kids who love to draw will gravitate towards each other. You get the idea. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, but when someone not in that group is being excluded on purpose, well then we have a problem.
So what can we do? How can we have kids be more accepting and inclusive? How can we remind them to always be kind? Are the assemblies and talks at school just not working for middle schoolers anymore? What’s the solution? I don’t have all the answers but my main piece of advice would be to talk to your kids. Tell them what you remember growing up. Tell them how you felt when kids made you smile or even when kids were mean to you. Remind them that one small act of kindness can make someone’s day. I really feel that it starts at home. As a parent we have to model behavior at all times. I struggle with this and often have to remind myself that my kids are watching my every move. I often have to bite my lip when I want to use a choice word when the dog chews up the corners of the wall. I’m not perfect by any means. But my kids will never ever see me treat anyone unkindly. The number one rule in our house is to treat everyone kindly and never to judge. We accept everyone for who they are. So far I’m proud of my kids. They really do try and go out of their way to be kind. And when it comes to friend issues, we talk everything out at home and try to come up with solutions together.
Keep up those reminders at home. Keep the lines of communication open. Don’t just ask your kids how their day was, dig a little deeper, even if it’s hard to get a response.
At the end of Mean Girls, Regina finds her tribe and our kids will, too. But a little guidance and some reminders really can work wonders.