The ‘Mean Girls’ phenomenon

I’m showing my age when I say I remember seeing Tina Fey’s movie, “Mean Girls,” in the movie theatre.

The movie came to theatres a year before YouTube became one of the first video streaming platforms. (I digress as I sit in my rocking chair thinking about the good ol’ days.) Though “Mean Girls” was a dark comedy, the bullying behavior the screenplay called out wasn’t an anomaly, but highlighted passive-aggressive traits to push people down while subtly elevating themselves.

“Mean Girls” has become iconic. From the silver screen to Broadway, Fey’s catchy phrases pop up in our everyday conversations or as costumes because, “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”

Besides the damaging effects of bullying, I wasn’t aware of the academic studies using this movie as a backdrop to study teen behavior. One study by Joseph P. Allen, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, focuses on the Mean Girl phenomenon, which normalizes silent bullying while promoting the ring leader. Remember, the popular quotes, costumes and behavior are not about the underdog learning her lesson but showcasing the popular group, “The Plastics.”

The study emphasizes girls are still raised to be nonconfrontational and avoid conflict. They can be kind and generous while still participating in negative behavior. With the additional stress of social media, teens don’t need to leave their homes to see how their friend group cleverly excludes them. This behavior may focus on daughters, but sons are just as likely to participate in negative behavior to claim status.

Though I’m not surprised this behavior still exists, I didn’t realize this movie spawned damaging offshoots since its 2004 release. Keep in mind, the teens who first watched the movie 20 years ago have children of their own and, in some incidences, are conditioned to accept their own and their child’s negative behavior as normal. The Mean Girls phenomenon created Mean Parents living vicariously through their children.

I have no cure for bullying. I wish I did. I do know that depression and suicide rates are on the rise in all age groups. I also understand it is unrealistic for everyone to be friends. It takes a brave child to stand up to a tyrant and an even stronger person to stand up to a friend. No one should be considered weak when feelings are hurt. If you have concerns about your child, please contact school administrators or teachers. If your child’s behavior has recently changed or gotten secretive, try to get answers. Conversations are the first step in recognizing mean parent/child behavior. Parenting is difficult.


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