The bullying side of mean girls
By DIANA GILBERT / Towns Correspondent
Last year when Jordan King heard girls making snide remarks toward others in her class, she knew they were being mean. This year, after her close friend was the target of such behavior, Jordan calls it something different: Bullying.
Jordan is 13, and, with her mom, Shaylene King, is on a mission to raise awareness of what bullying looks like, especially among preteen and teenage girls. They call it the Mean Girl Extinction Project.
“A lot of girl drama really can be considered bullying,” said Shaylene King, who used to be a teacher and now writes novels for ’tweens.
“It’s easy for us to think of it as girls being hormonal or over-reacting, but if you get a group of girls together who haven’t learned how to deal with these things, it can become dangerous.”
Jordan has seen the effects firsthand.
This past summer, she learned that two middle-school classmates had made a video of themselves saying hurtful and disparaging things about Jordan’s friend, then posted it on Facebook for all to see.
Jordan discussed the incident with her mom, and the pair decided to do something about it. But while King wanted her daughter to support her friend, she also didn’t want Jordan to put herself in the middle of a bad situation.
“I was very concerned with how to help Jordan support her friend, but I was concerned that she would become their next target if we didn’t handle it appropriately,” said King.
They decided to create The Mean Girl Extinction Project, which started as a website and blog where both bullies and targets can come for help, guidance or support.
This fall, the pair has focused on spreading awareness about bullying locally, speaking at Windsor High and the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women.
As King has done more research into bullying, especially among young women, she has been surprised by some of what she’s learned.
“What I was realizing is that girls are using relationships as a weapon. They are so relationally minded that it’s an easy way to target others. It’s called relational aggression,” said King.
The growing importance of social media for teens has changed the appearance of bullying.
“Girls’ relationships are so important that their everyday lives revolve around social media, so that’s where we see a lot of bullying.
“For my generation, a rumor that spread would stay in our social circle or at our school. With social media those attacks reach a wider audience and feel much more permanent and unavoidable,” she said.
The effects of bullying can vary in severity, according to King. These effects can include high anxiety, depression and skipping school.
“Kids who are bullied just don’t want to go to school,” King said. “They end up showing aggression at home because that’s a safe place to do it. Often they lash out at their parents or siblings.
“Many bullied teens also turn to drugs and alcohol. Some girls become sexually promiscuous because they want to be affirmed in some way. Self-mutilation by cutting is a big one, and even suicide.”
As both King and her daughter become better informed about the manifestations and effects of bullying, Jordan has become more aware of those behaviors at her own school and among her peers.
“I see bullying almost every day in my classes. I see the same stuff happen again and again. I remember seeing it last year just not fully thinking — I knew that what was happening wasn’t right, but I didn’t think of it as bullying.”
Jordan has chosen to respond in a way that she hopes will make her classmates aware of their behavior. When she sees someone say or do something that looks like bullying, “I say to the people ‘That’s not very nice,’ or ‘You probably shouldn’t be mean to her.’ ” Her new awareness has brought with it some reflection on what causes girls to be mean to one another.
“I think mostly in my grade, they use their insecurities to point out others so they don’t feel that their insecurities are as bad. I do think people intentionally do bullying to make them feel better about themselves or think that they’re cool. They want to give themselves a better reputation or feel stronger or better than another girl,” said Jordan.
When King or Jordan becomes aware of a bullying situation, they recommend first taking the issue to the school or organizational leadership if it’s taking place during extra-curricular activities. Then, King suggests that students get involved in community activities where they can gain acceptance.
Speaking up about bullying doesn’t come easily to most targets, however.
“I don’t think they talk about it because they’ve been bullied so much that they’re embarrassed,” said Jordan. “They don’t want to be made fun of. They don’t want their parents to shake it off as drama. For me, even, I get really sensitive when people say stuff about me. Even when I know it’s not true, it still affects me.”
King add, “There’s that fear that the bullies will retaliate if they say anything and make it worse, so they just take it.”
Jordan and King know that eradicating bullies, or “mean girls,” is a daunting task, so they’re looking for ways to expand the project.
“We’ve used our own money to buy those silicone bracelets that say ‘Mean Girl Extinction Project,’ ” said King, “but we’d like to get some grant money so that we can start providing resources to the schools. There’s just no funding for this sort of thing in the schools’ budget.”
To learn more about the Mean Girl Extinction Project or how you can help, visit the-mean-girl-extinction-project.com.