No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls

No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls

by Katie Hurley


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In this Queen Bees and Wannabes for the elementary and middle school set, child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley shows parents of young girls how to nip mean girl behavior in the bud.

Once upon a time, mean girls primarily existed in high school, while elementary school-aged girls spent hours at play and enjoyed friendships without much drama. But in this fast-paced world in which young girls are exposed to negative behaviors on TV and social media from the moment they enter school, they are also becoming caught up in social hierarchies much earlier. No More Mean Girls is a guide for parents to help their young daughters navigate tricky territories such as friendship building, creating an authentic self, standing up for themselves and others, and expressing themselves in a healthy way.
     The need to be liked by others certainly isn't new, but this generation of girls is growing up in an age when the "like" button shows the world just how well-liked they are. When girls acknowledge that they possess positive traits that make them interesting, strong, and likeable, however, the focus shifts and their self-confidence soars; "likes" lose their importance. This book offers actionable steps to help parents empower young girls to be kind, confident leaders who work together and build each other up.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143130864
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/30/2018
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 115,553
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Katie Hurley, LCSW, is a child and adolescent psychotherapist, parenting expert, and writer. She is the founder of "Girls Can!" empowerment groups for girls between ages 5-11. Hurley is also the author of The Happy Kid Handbook, and her work can be found in The Washington Post, PBS Parents, and US News and World Report, among other places. She practices psychotherapy in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and earned her BA in psychology and women's studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She splits her time between Los Angeles, California and coastal Connecticut with her husband and two children.

Read an Excerpt


What's in a Friend?

The way we will survive is by being kind.

Amy Poehler

My mom says [my classmate] is a mean girl. You know? Like the queen bee? The one who tells everyone else what to do and who to talk to?

A third-grade girl

Mean girls and queen bees certainly aren't a new phenomenon, and these popular labels have been around for quite some time now, but hearing those words out of the mouth of an eight-year-old girl was a bit jarring. I didn't know the "mean girl" in question, so my frame of reference was limited. What I did know was the girl in front of me had her mind made up: That other girl was labeled and placed in the "Do not friend" file.

The "mean girl" narrative is so old that it even pops up in literature I read as a child. In fact, when I began reading a well-loved copy of Little Women to my daughter not long ago, I found (two pages in) that "mean girls" have a long history in the life of girls:

"I don't believe any of you suffer as I do," cried Amy, "for you don't have to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague you if you don't know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and label your father if he isn't rich, and insult you when your nose isn't nice."

For reference, Louisa May Alcott first published Little Women in two installments in 1868 and 1869. Yes, mean girls come with the territory of girlhood, it seems. What's different is that those queen bees are getting younger and younger.

I was working as a school-based therapist in Los Angeles in early 2001 when I first noticed a subtle shift in the way elementary school girls related to one another. It was a small school, and the kids generally got along, but the tides turned for one particular group of girls in fourth grade. Together since first or second grade, they knew each other well and always sat in the same spots for lunch every day. Until they didn't. One day, three girls broke off and left the others devastated.

Molly was the first to come to me, a look of pure outrage across her face. In fairness, Molly was often outraged about something — homework, lessons she found boring, not enough to do at recess. She was the kind of kid who had advocacy running through her blood. On this particular day, the outrage was more personal. She was the first out to lunch and secured the usual table. Two of her daily lunch mates sat down within minutes, but three others never showed. After scanning the playground, Molly caught sight of them sitting under some trees.

In Molly's version of events, she walked over to the girls and politely inquired about why they weren't with the group. I knew her well enough to know that she likely marched over, fists clenched at her sides, demanding answers. Either way, the answer was a blow to Molly. "We just want to be alone today."

Had this been a one-time occurrence, it wouldn't have mattered much. But day after day for nearly a month, the three girls took off without inviting the others. They moved their seats in the classroom. They stopped playing with the other girls during recess. It was as if they formed a completely separate group. And the ones left behind felt hurt, confused, and abandoned.

At the time, I struggled to make sense of how the group reached that point. Sure, friends argue and kids often make new friends and move on from friendships that aren't working. But this felt different. It was as if someone took a giant Sharpie and drew a clear line down the middle of the group. Was it media influence? Older siblings? Did something catastrophic happen within the group? In reality, it wasn't any of those things. It was a powerful combination of frustration and poor communication skills.

After what felt like thousands of grievances and explanations coming in from both sides of the issue, I decided to offer a new solution. I created a girls' lunch group that met once a week during the lunch/recess period. It was open to any girl who wanted to join, and it was often packed. As it turned out, the girls were fairly bored at recess, and this negatively affected their relationships. They were high on complaints but low on solutions.

The larger problem, however, was that they were growing up and growing apart and needing some space some of the time, but they weren't communicating those feelings. Instead of talking to each other, they split off. Issues that annoyed them but went unsaid in an effort to avoid being "mean" came out in those lunch groups. It was slow at first, but a few weeks in they were sharing and communicating and yelling and apologizing. They talked about behaviors that bugged them (like one girl who always took over every conversation) and what they really wanted from a friend. It wasn't always perfect, but they were learning to work through the stuff that bothered them and caused them to pull away from one another.

If I'm being honest, there were weeks that I was convinced that this plan to reunite friends and teach social skills wasn't even making a dent in the problem. I didn't use a curriculum because I wanted to meet these girls where they were and go from there. It was complicated by the fact that the group was large and the lunch/recess period was short. But the day that I asked each of them to write a friendship compliment (a kind thought about one of their friends) on a balloon and toss it in the air was the day that everything changed. The girls laughed together as they tossed balloons around the room. They jumped around, joked, and acted like kids again. They let go of their insecurities and got lost in the moment. After that, they began to find their way again. Little by little, they chipped away at the negativity and worked through their friendship struggles. They also learned an important lesson: They could be friends and support one another without sitting in the same seats each day and following each other around.

In recent years, I've seen this behavior in girls as young as kindergarten. Behavior that was once considered middle school-ish in nature has trickled down to the early elementary years. By middle school, many girls have more complex social relationships. When they exclude others, spread gossip, or take to social media to air their grievances about other girls, they do it with intent to hurt. Young children, on the other hand, don't yet have the advanced social skills to understand this behavior, but they do engage in it. When a group decides to exclude one girl, for example, many of the girls in the group are likely to know that it's wrong and even feel uncomfortable about it, but they won't necessarily have the language to express it or the assertiveness skills to put a stop to it. Bystanders are everywhere.

A young girl midway through kindergarten came to me wringing her hands and staring at her feet. Silenced by guilt, she struggled to get a word out. A few rounds of Uno later, she finally met my eyes and started to cry. She had made a "huge" mistake that day. Two girls told her that to play house with them she had to leave her closest friend behind. She really wanted to play house at recess that day, but it came at a price. The price was that it wasn't any fun. She spent the whole recess looking over at her friend, who was alone in the yard, wishing that she could go back in time and change her mind. Instead of breaking away to apologize, she watched and stood silent. She didn't think she could fix the problem, so instead she worked herself into a stomachache and worried that her best friend was lost forever. She made a big assumption that day, and that assumption (which was, in fact, incorrect) caused emotional upset for her friend and for her.

One thing I have found over and over again in my practice is that young girls struggle with the art of friendship making. Years ago, preschools and kindergarten classrooms spent a fair amount of time working on things like social skills and character development. These days, childhood is on fast-forward, and kids are cruising through the early years without learning essential life skills. They don't have the time to practice friendship skills, and they don't get the necessary feedback to learn better ways to relate.

When I was in fourth grade, I started a girls' club with my best friend and one other friend. It was an impulse club, most likely started to keep meddling brothers away. We spent one Saturday afternoon in my best friend's basement making signs for our nonexistent clubhouse. We called ourselves the Smelly Sneakers. Pretty catchy, don't you think? And we made the colossal mistake of discussing the club the following Monday morning at school. By lunch, word had spread, and the teacher called us in to talk about what it feels like to be left out. Despite the fact that the club was nothing but a poster and a funny name (it wasn't our intention to be "exclusive"; we just happened to play together that day), clubs were outlawed and the Smelly Sneakers came to a quick demise. The three of us learned an important lesson: Even when you think something is just funny, you might hurt someone else's feelings. Think twice.

In hindsight, that was an early peek into what could have become relational aggression. Our teacher took the time to teach us about the potential impact of a secret club. She might not have used words like "empathy" and "compassion," but she did get us thinking about what it would feel like to be the one on the outside. When we went back out to play, we joined the larger group, and that was the end of clubs. From that point on, we all played in groups during recess based on what we wanted to play. That was then; this is now.

With young girls living fairly scripted lives — play dates are planned on their behalf, afternoons are full of structured activities (coached or taught by adults), weekends are j am-packed with games and parties (overseen by adults) — they don't have the opportunities to practice these necessary friendship skills. The Smelly Sneakers might have been a friendship fail, but three girls learned some very important lessons from it, and that translated to better social skills down the line. Unfortunately, girls don't always have the time or opportunities to learn these important social skills on their own because their days are heavily supervised.

What Is Relational Aggression?

Relational aggression plays a significant role in girl world right now. I can't tell you how many messages I field about this very topic. Part of the problem is that it's confusing at best. It's difficult for girls, parents, and teachers to determine when an act of unkindness is a social misstep due to lack of sophisticated social skills versus when it's a deliberate act to harm another girl. Relational aggression is also very difficult to spot. Things like alliance building and gossip can be carried out in whispers (or under the cover of technology), making it hard for teachers to "see" the behavior in real time.

The Ophelia Project, a national nonprofit organization with expertise in relational aggression, defines relational aggression as "behavior that is intended to harm someone by damaging or manipulating his or her relationships with others." A few fast facts shared by the Ophelia Project paint a fairly grim picture. According to their statistics, 48 percent of students are regularly exposed to relational aggression. Another study shows that students ages 11-15 reported that they were exposed to 33 acts of relational aggression during a typical week.

Being the victim of relational aggression can come with some long-term consequences. In fact, relational aggression is said to be as painful and devastating as physical blows, and the negative effects of these behaviors can last even longer. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that relational aggression is hard to spot, and that makes it difficult to address. When girls do come forward, it's often viewed as "girl drama" (my least favorite word combination ever), or it quickly becomes a "she said — she said" debate. It's a lose-lose for the victim (and the aggressor, if we're being honest, because she doesn't learn how to be a better friend or how to stop hurting other girls).

Relational aggression comes in many forms these days, and advances in technology mean that very young girls are dealing with some very mature issues, whether or not they're developmentally prepared to do so. The average age that a child gets a smartphone is 10.3 years. That's roughly fourth grade. But what it really means is that there are some younger girls walking around with technology in their pockets. Once upon a time, relational aggression was restricted to note passing and rumor spreading, but these days a group text can take down a child in an instant. Is sheltering our daughters from technology the answer? No. Understanding what's happening, familiarizing ourselves with the communication patterns of the modern girl, and educating our girls is a much better approach.

To that end, it helps to know a bit about relational aggression. Gossip, rumor spreading, public embarrassment, social exclusion, and alliance building are all considered forms of relational aggression. Not sure what that means or where to draw the line between, say, wanting to sit with another kid and exclusion? You're not alone. This stuff is difficult to deal with because so much of it flies under the radar. And while an act of relational aggression might seem purposeful and intended to harm, it can also be a sign of poor social skills. That's why it's vital that we teach girls about the whole arc of friendship making early on. We can't sit around and wait for social blunders to morph into relational aggression; we have to be proactive. We owe it to our girls to help them understand how their actions can negatively affect others and what to do instead.

Sophia is seven years old and has a best friend. She always spends lunch and recess with her, and they play together after school a few days a week. In second grade, however, the girls landed in different classrooms. Sophia quickly made three new friends and invited them to join her and her best friend for lunch. Later that day, her best friend issued a threat: Stop hanging out with those girls or I won't be your friend anymore. Sophia was torn. She liked her new friends, but she didn't want to lose her best friend. She did what many girls in her position would do: She gave the new friends the silent treatment and stuck with her best friend. Within a few weeks, the so-called "best" friend found her own new friends and left Sophia in the dust. Sophia's mom blamed Sophia for making poor choices. Her teacher chalked it up to "growing pains." But Sophia was devastated.

Sophia's case is a tricky one, as many of these instances are with young girls, because she played the parts of both victim and aggressor. When her best friend threatened to abandon her, she felt scared and upset. She didn't want to lose a friendship that dated back to kindergarten. Instead of seeking help, standing up to her best friend, or taking turns sitting with her best friend and her new friends, however, she turned around and silenced the new friendships without a second thought. She didn't do it to act mean; she genuinely liked those girls and wanted to make new friends, but the fear of losing the "best" friend was too much to process. She ended up alone and anxious as a result.

Maggie was in third grade when the trouble began. A very highly social girl by nature, she had a large group of friends that formed in kindergarten and stayed together despite different teachers and teams in the years to come. Midway through third grade, however, the tides turned. The girls she knew and trusted began to tease and taunt her. At first, it was whispers and giggles each time she left her seat. It escalated to dropping tiny balls of tissue on her seat that stuck to her black leggings when she stood up. Before long, there were subtle threats. "Do you think it would hurt if she sat on tacks?" All of this went unnoticed by the teacher, as it all happened in whispers behind notebooks and textbooks.

As bad as the classroom taunting felt, it was the lunch table antics that caused the most public humiliation. While experts often caution educators to look for the child who has no one to sit with, I would caution that we should also look for the child who appears visibly upset while the rest of the table laughs.


Excerpted from "No More Mean Girls"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Katie Hurley.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xiii

Author's Note xvii

Introduction xix

Chapter 1 What's in a Friend? 1

Chapter 2 Like Versus Likable and the Pursuit of Popularity 46

Chapter 3 Risk Taking in the Name of Courage 73

Chapter 4 Perfect Girl Syndrome 97

Chapter 5 Sporty Girls, Artsy Girls, Bossy Girls, and Girly Girls 120

Chapter 6 Finding Me: How to Build an Authentic Self 138

Chapter 7 Reaching for the High Bar 157

Chapter 8 Find Your Voice! 176

Chapter 9 Express Yourself! 193

Chapter 10 Failing Out Loud and Other Acts of Resilience 212

Chapter 11 Growing Great Leaders 233

Chapter 12 Raising Socially Responsible Girls 253

Acknowledgments 277

Notes 281

Index 293

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No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a must-read. The author's narrative is down-to-earth and insightful. She gives practical how-to's on how to raise confident and kind girls.