Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression
in Girls and Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write About
Bullies, Cliques, Popularity, and Jealousy by
Please Stop Laughing at Us...: One Survivor's
Quest to Prevent School Bullying by Jodee
Mean Chicks, Cliques, and Dirty Tricks: A Real
Girl's Guide to Getting Through the Day with Smarts and
Style by Erika V. Shearin Karres
Mean Girls, Meaner Women: Understanding Why
Women Backstab, Betray and Trash-Talk Each
Other and How to Heal by Dr. Erika Holiday and
Dr. Joan I Rosenberg
Relational Aggression in Girls by Jamie
Girl Grudges: Learning How to Forgive and
Live by Cheryl Dellasega and Shileste Overton
Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female
Bullying by Cheryl Dellasega and Charisse Nixon
As an adolescent, Andrea Chaitin-Richards was on
the receiving end of whisper campaigns and exclusion by the mean
girls at school.
"Theater helped me. It was something that helped me keep
myself together," she says.
Now a licensed clinical professional counselor who has
specialized in adolescent issues at Hoover and Associates in Tinley
Park, Chaitin-Richards eventually turned the tables.
"Sometimes people who were bullied turn out to be bullies
later," she says. "I actually did that, too. I learned to play the
The term "mean girls," to describe the relational bullying
phenomenon among tweens age 11 to 13, became a popular fixture in
the English lexicon in 2004, due to the popularity of the movie by
the same name. Based on the book "Queen Bees and Wannabes" by
Rosalind Wiseman, the film version was written by and co-starred
former Saturday Night Live cast member Tina Fey and was set in
Chicago's North Shore.
"It probably is the worst aspect of bullying,"
Chaitin-Richards says. "I think it's probably our society's
greatest psycho-social problem … It's really scary stuff. I have
little kids, and it's one of my biggest fears for them."
Big problem today
About 17 percent of students surveyed by Dorothy Espelage,
professor of educational psychology at the University of
Illinois-Champaign, say they had bullied another student.
Fifty-eight percent reported they had witnessed bullying, but only
13 percent of those young people say they intervened.
A study published in February in American Sociological
Review by researchers at the University of California-Davis
concluded that the more popular a student becomes, the more likely
he or she is to harass peers. The most aggressive behavior,
according to the study, peaked when students hit the 98th
percentile in popularity.
However, those who managed to secure a place in the top 2
percent of a school's social hierarchy stopped harassing their
fellow students. The researchers theorized that these students may
have had little left to gain by bullying.
Children typically move up and down the popularity
spectrum over the course of their education-and sometimes even in
the same year, Chastain-Richards says. Some children rise in the
pecking order, then fall from grace only to rise again, she
Girls and boys differ
Relational bullying, a leading cause of depression and
suicide among adolescents, tends to rear its ugly head more among
girls than boys, Chaitin-Richards says. That's because many boys
have other more extreme ways of dealing with conflict: ignoring it
or tackling it head-on through physical aggression.
"Anecdotally speaking, women don't have the physical
strength, so they use psychological warfare," she says, adding that
girls learn to manage power and influence covertly.
One exception may be boys who are gay.
"I think that's where boys get affected by relational
aggression," Chaitin-Richards says. "Not fitting the mold puts
somebody at risk."
Though it may bleed into the neighborhood or home
environment-especially because of the rise of email, text messaging
and social networking sites among other technologies-experts agree
that relational bullying is primarily a school-based problem. It
can result in chronic truancy, falling grades and, at its worst,
dropping out, as students become alienated from their classmates
and try to avoid school.
Illinois is one of 45 states that has anti-bullying
legislation, but it remains an unfunded mandate, though its
programs have been proven to reduce bullying by as much as 50
percent. Even so, school districts from the inner city to
Naperville have made a commitment to staff professional development
in this area.
Ann Hofmeier, director of teaching and learning at
Aptakisic-Tripp School District 102 in Buffalo Grove, says her
district places a high value on socio-emotional
"We put a lot of time and stock and value into how our
kids feel," she says. "I think it's just as important as being a
good reader and understanding math concepts."
Last December, Hofmeier and a group of new teachers in the
district's mentoring program participated in a workshop dealing
specifically with the mean girls phenomenon sponsored by YouthLight
Inc., publisher of several books on the subject.
"To be honest," she says, "all schools have these issues
because they deal with people. I wouldn't say we have a problem,
but you want to be proactive."
Rebecca R. Bibbs is a freelance writer living in Oak Park.
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