Special Report: Stopping the mean girl mentality
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Adolescent behavior can be describedin many different ways. Sometimes it's erratic, immature, or even mean. Meanbehavior is showing up as early as elementary school, and more often in girlsthan boys.
Now one school district is teaching teachers how torecognize and stop mean girl problems.
In the halls of high schools and middle schools, you mightfind girls like Audrey, Makayla, and Zyetaja.
"I like new challenges, so basically eighth grade is like anew challenge for me. I'm starting to understand the work and stuff. It'sstarting to get easy for me," said Zyetaja Goodwater.
School work may be easy, but Goodwater says the hallways canbe a tough place.
"Last time I saw a mean girl knock something out of a girl'shand, and she started crying, it was really sad but she didn't tell anybody.And I told her to tell somebody, because you can't let that stay in," she said.
Goodwater calls them mean girls because they do and sayterrible things. Fortunately, she says, she's immune to them now.
"They'll tell you that you're not good enough, you're uglybut you don't listen to them you know you're beautiful," she said.
High School senior Audrey Lotito feels more vulnerable. Shesays verbal assaults by so-called mean girls literally make her sick.
"You don't know what someone is going to do or say to you. Youhave that fear inside of you," she said.
But she found an outlet for the pain - poetry: "Walkingthrough the halls at school with the fear of being bullied, someone peeringthrough the corners waiting to put you down, the lights so dim, the doorsopened wide leading to a room of fright."
For Makayla Armstrong, the mean girl was someone she thought wasa close friend.
"She would joke around and say something mean, and I'm justlike, 'Hey!' And she says, 'I'm just joking,'" Armstrong said.
But there was nothing funny about the jokes when they turnedviolent.
"One day she came up behind me out of the blue and just like,got on to my neck and - I just didn't really like that very much. My friendswere like, 'You know she didn't do that on accident,'" she said.
It's a problem that is starting to get a lot of attentionbecause it's so secretive.
"Our young girls engage in behaviors that are pretty covert.It's kind of hard to see it occurring, not like boys. We put a lot of emphasison boys," said author Stephanie Jensen.
Jensen is an author and speaker who specializes in what shecalls relational aggression or "mean girl behavior." She regularly speaks atmean girl conferences, where she calls on teachers, counselors, and parents torecognize warning signs.
Dorchester District 2 schools recently sent 18 teachers andcounselors to Jensen's conference in Charleston.
"If we don't feel confident in our abilities to intervene,then we are more likely to ignore. And we know that when we ignore these thingsescalate, and young girls just don't know what to do," Jensen said.
Sheila Lenz is a school counselor at Givhans AlternativeSchool. She now knows what to look for, what makes a mean girl really mean.
"Rumors, gossip, insults, not sitting with them at the lunchtable, giving them the cold shoulder," she said, listing the behaviors. "It reallyhurts the outsider. The outsider sometimes was a friend, but now a lesserfriend, less important friend in the social hierarchy of the group."
Jensen says friendships are very important to teenagers -especially girls. She says they'll even change schools to escape being isolatedby former friends.
Lenz says mean girls act deliberately and their victims feelan imbalance of power, whether it's real or perceived.
"As a mom, it's not easy because you kind of feel helpless,because I can't go to school with her every day," said Sherrie Hobbs, Makayla'smother.
She was so worried about the mean girls in seventh gradethat she went to school herself. Hobbs says she left feeling better, believingDD2 knows what to do.
"I trust the administration to look out for her and her bestinterest, to protect her and teach her and help her, you know, grow and develop,"she said.
And that teaching is helping girls like Audrey, Makayla, andZyetaja to walk the school's hallways with their heads held high, even whenmean girls try to bring them down.