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Teen Girls' Health

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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.

Why Do Girls Act So Mean? continued...

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.

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.

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