Middle school is an awkward time for a lot of girls. At that age, it can be so hard to fit in.
For Anna Thomas, middle school in metro Atlanta was a total nightmare. "I remember a bunch of girls would stare at me at lunch and make fun of me," Thomas, who is now 18, remembers. "People would walk by me and laugh at me." Her humiliation didn't end there.
My patient Cindy had always been a star student, but when she turned thirteen, the stress of adolescence became too much for her. Her parents were splitting up, and Cindy’s mother was struggling with self-esteem issues. She constantly criticized both herself and Cindy for not looking their best. Meanwhile, Cindy was losing interest in her classes and getting in trouble at school for the first time. She felt she had no control over her life.
Cindy decided to take control by drastically restricting...
Her classmates refused to let her sit in the back of the bus, where the "cool people" sat. Every time she raised her hand in English class, kids yelled at her to "shut up." She was called "the weird girl." One girl told her she looked like "road kill."
Thomas says she never did anything to set off these attacks. She just was an easy target. "I was in that awkward stage of growing up," she says. "I was the odd one out."
High school didn't get any easier. In fact, the girls in Thomas' high school were even more vicious.
Before prom, some of the girls sent her text messages that read, "If you go to the prom, you're going to regret it. Your face is going to be so messed up." They came to the restaurant where she worked, cursed her out, and slashed the tires on her car.
Thomas changed schools -- twice. The harassment didn't stop.
So much hatred was being directed at Thomas that she began to hate herself. "I had no confidence because of the way people treated me."
Thinking she was ugly and fat, Thomas began throwing up after she ate. Sometimes she'd throw up 10 times a day. She developed an eating disorder.
To become the fun, popular person all the kids at school said she wasn't, Thomas started drinking. By age 17 she had an alcohol problem and was in rehab.
She was so miserable that she thought about killing herself. "I would go to sleep and wish I wouldn't wake up anymore."
Why Do Girls Act So Mean?
All teenage girls tease each other from time to time. They roll their eyes and make nasty comments. But the girls who were taunting Thomas were especially cruel.
Thomas isn't the only one who's had to deal with mean girls. Some girls are so viciously abused that they don't want to live anymore. Fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince, a Massachusetts high school student, was so badly harassed by girls at her school that she killed herself.
The media is at least partly to blame for these kinds of "mean girl" behaviors, says Charisse Nixon, PhD, an associate professor and developmental psychologist at Penn State Erie. "We are inundated with media images of cruel behavior as funny...with reality television shows that celebrate meanness."
An example is the 2004 Lindsay Lohan movie, Mean Girls. In the movie, a trio of popular girls terrorizes the other students at their high school. "How many teen girls own that movie and watch it repeatedly because it's 'funny?'" Nixon asks.