October 15, 2014
Teachers Talk - Softening the Mean Girl
Lisa Brucks, Teacher, Cariboo Adventist Academy, Williams Lake, BC

“Girls are just mean sometimes,” my teenage son commented recently.  Down deep, I sadly had to agree with the sentiment; yes, girls can be downright mean, but especially to each other.  Most adult women can think back to a painful high school or college memory … being the brunt of gossip, feeling “the glare” from another girl, or being excluded by the diva who seemed to control what the other girls did or who they hung out with. 

As bullying has reared its ugly head in schools everywhere over the last decade, girl bullying (or relational aggression) has emerged as a bigger monster; and no, not just in the public school arena, but also  in our Adventist schools as well.  Why is it such a monster?  If there is violence or physical acting out, teachers are quick to intervene and punish where necessary, but girl bullying takes on a less obvious form, and frankly, we don’t know what to do about it.  Sometimes it looks like mere girl drama. Often we can’t pinpoint what has happened, and too many times it sounds like one girl’s word against another’s.  But, if one looks at many of the negative situations that arise amongst the girls at school, the source can be seen:  deliberate exclusion, gossip and rumor behind backs and through social media, being friends one week and enemies the next, jokes to embarrass and humiliate, whispering, ignoring and encouraging others to do the same, glaring. The list goes on. 

In my personal teaching experience, I have comforted girls crying in the bathroom because of the actions of another. I have listened to mothers tell me on occasion that their daughters don’t want to come to school anymore. I have witnessed tension between girls in the classroom. And sadly, I have watched girls leave our school because of another girl. 

After a journey of watching, listening, reading, and educational workshops, an idea was born: as a proactive start, why not give girls a platform on which to learn about relational aggression and how to constructively deal with it.  Despite the creative names I gave this idea, “Girls’ Group” stuck and is part of our school program to this day.  Our Bible teacher saw the value in Girls’ Groups and gave one Bible period each week for each group of girls (grouped by grades); the groups were small enough that girls could trust and become vulnerable with each other over time.  Through fun activities, games, discussion, role-playing, and carefully chosen technological helps, we focused on age-appropriate topics: bonding between the girls, self-worth, friendship, gossip, cliques, dealing with conflict, what girl bullying looks like, how to deal with it if you’re a victim, how to deal with it as a bystander, and what to do if you think you ARE a bully. 

What has grown from this proactive approach has been most encouraging. During semesters when we didn’t schedule Girls’ Groups, particular groups have approached us to ask to start one because they were having problems. We then meet for a couple months until they feel there’s a healthier social climate among them; individual girls or 2-3 at a time will ask us to sit in as they sort out a problem amongst each other; girls in a particular group (usually at the Grade 9, 10 level) have often asked us to expand our topic to “boys”—how to understand them better, what dating is all about, how far to get involved and so on.  Girls’ Groups has worked well as a regular group and sporadically, as needed, from Grades 5-12.

The main purposes of Girls’ Groups is to educate our young ladies about girl bullying, with solutions and hope. Secondly, we want to give them a chance to positively and vulnerably interact with each other in a safe place, with those benefits influencing their interactions in the locker and lunchroom.  Girls’ Groups in our school are a tool many girls enjoy and eagerly participate in!