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Mean Girls: How to Deal With Them

Coping tips for handling mean girls' nastiness in person, behind your back, and online.

How Do Mean Girls Get Mean?

Researchers say teenage girls have a few basic needs, which Nixon calls the ABCs & ME. A stands for acceptance, B is a sense of belonging, C is control, and ME is the need for a meaningful existence. When those needs aren't met, girls sometimes do mean things to get them met.

For example, "If kids don't feel like they have control in one area of their life, they are likely to be aggressive to gain control in some other area of their life," Nixon says. The girl who claws her way to the top of the social order dictates who can and can't be part of her inner circle of friends. That power helps meet her need for control.

Girls use name calling, rumors, and general nastiness to help them rise to the top of the heap. "It's such a time of jockeying for position. The person who controls the information is usually the popular person," says Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, GNP, professor of Medicine and Humanities at the Penn State University College of Medicine. She and Nixon co-wrote a book called Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying about ways to prevent teasing, gossip, and other bullying behaviors.

Who Are the Mean Girls' Targets?

The stereotype of the mean girls' target is someone who looks or acts different.

"It could be the girl who is overweight. It could be the girl who is not as attractive," Dellasega says. Another target might be someone who makes a mistake -- like saying "hi" to the popular girl's boyfriend, she says.

Often, though, the nastiness is focused on someone who is just minding her own business.

Thomas didn't say or do anything to provoke the girls at her school. She didn't gossip about them or try to steal their boyfriends.

"The majority of victims are not provocative victims... that is, they are not those annoying kids who continually provoke others," Nixon says. "The majority of victims, instead, are what we call 'passive victims.'" Whether they're provocative or passive, a lot of kids are the victims of mean girls.

Nixon and guidance counselor Stan Davis interviewed about 13,000 kids in grades 5-12 for Youth Voice, a research project that's studying ways to help kids deal with meanness and bullying. They found that about half the kids were being harassed at least once a month.

Mean Girls Go Viral

School isn't the only place where mean girls operate. Today they have a new forum for humiliating their victims: cyberspace.

When Thomas was in middle school, a girl in her class created a MySpace page with Thomas' name and face on it. The girl then sent out nasty messages to some of their other classmates, pretending those messages were coming from Thomas.

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