We can be friends on the bus, but not at school.
My 8-year-old and her friends have already started experiencing the mean girl mentality. I have witnessed girls slowly turning on one another on the playground as well as in the backseat of my minivan. Girls who were inseparable before third grade will be entering fourth grade as strangers.
In preschool, there weren’t any rules when it came to friendships. Boys and girls played together. The quietest child could connect with the wildest in the bunch. After they get past finger-painting and learning to share, though, a shift occurs. Suddenly, there are popular girls, exclusive clubs and cliques. If you look closely, someone is always being excluded. Two little girls can play together nicely, but if you dare to throw a third one into the mix, someone is bound to get excluded.
If you play with her, I won’t play with you.
By third grade, the social landscape of the preteen girl starts to change. Halfway through the year, a major earthquake hits and separates friendships that have been going strong since kindergarten. Aftershocks cause little breaks, isolating certain girls from the rest of the class. The unlucky ones fall into the chasm that has formed.
Third grade was the year I realized that not everyone was my friend. I was faced with the harsh reality that cliques and mean girls really did exist. Unbeknownst to me, my best friend was being swayed to the dark side. With a smug look on her face, one of the Queen Bee’s underlings walked over to my desk and informed me that my best friend did not want to be friends with me anymore. I was blindsided. My eyes searched the room for my friend. There she was, near the blackboard with her new clique, laughing as if my world wasn’t being turned upside down. She averted her eyes so as not to meet mine.
The underling stood in front of me with a self-satisfied smile on her face. “She didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but…” At that point, I tuned her out. Was she waiting for me to thank her for letting me down easily? For a brief second, I wanted the chasm to envelop me, but I didn’t allow it to swallow me whole. Instead, it made me aware of the social changes that were taking place all around me. It didn’t take long for the mean girls to turn on each other—because, of course, everyone wants to be the Queen Bee. No one is immune.
I hate to think of the day when some underling will turn around and tell my daughter that she doesn’t want to play with her anymore. Even worse, what if my daughter gets recruited and becomes a mean girl herself? That would equate to a major failure in my parenting.
It makes me ponder the question, do former mean girls raise the future Queen Bees? I believe mean girls grow up to be mean moms. These women still have the need to rule over a tight clique of friends with the same exclusivity they demanded back when they were in school. If you pick up your children at school one afternoon, it won’t take long to watch the hives—both adults and children—claim corners of the all-purpose room. If Mommy is a card-carrying mean girl, her progeny will likely follow suit. The little bees are waiting to sharpen up their stingers. Change has to begin with us.