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Monday, December 15, 2014

Is Your Teen a Mean Girl?

Not long ago, a friend of mine from high school posted a Facebook status asking if anyone remembered who the "mean people" were back in high school, and names immediately came to mind. Twenty years later, I can't tell you the names of most of my teachers, but I can remember with painful clarity the girls who gave me sidelong looks and asked "innocent" questions like, "Why do you dress like that?" in a tone of amused disbelief. The adult knowledge that Mean Girl behavior is born of insecurity doesn't change the fact that the scars run deep.

 As much as I want to emulate Elsa, I can't just Let it Go.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

I drove several of Babygirl's friends home from a concert the same week, and listened in on their conversation. To be perfectly fair, Babygirl didn't, herself, say anything "mean". She's usually the first to jump in and defend anyone who comes under attack. She is the champion of the underdog, the hero to the downtrodden. Normally, an unkind word spoken in her presence is shot down quickly, with grace and style.

Remember those days?
I do.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

This talk felt different... It wasn't the kind of full-on cut down I normally associate with bullying. I wouldn't even go so far as to call what went on "bullying" behavior. The conversation was a critique of a peer's singing performance, and the comments wouldn't have been unkind, if not for the tone and very-public setting. If the same conversation had taken place with the girl, it might have been constructive criticism. I've often heard the same girls speak with each other with sympathy and empathy, offering support and advice. Not this time. I actually winced at hearing that the singer had a "Disney voice," especially when the disclaimer was added that,
"You can only do so much with a Disney voice."
"This song is too high for her. She's actually a Soprano 2."
*snort* "More like an alto."
"She's straining."
The talk wasn't kind or helpful. It was born of a competitive spirit, and it happened behind her back, which made it gossip. Worse, the conversation was carried on at full volume, in a public place, where it was sure to be overheard, and possibly probably repeated to the singer.

If I tried singing Let it Go, the audience would be straining... to be first out the door.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

I heard the conversation through the hyper-alert ears of a Mom who was also once a teenager, who couldn't have imagined singing in front of a crowd on my best days. My heart hurt for the singer, imagining how she would've felt, overhearing her classmates' rather unkind critique of her efforts.

These kids are being taught by a world-class singer, Mr. G. He's traveled around the world, appearing in operas and stage shows professionally for years before settling down to raise his family and teach high school. I am grateful that my Babygirl has had an opportunity to study with this man. Even if she doesn't go on to become a professional singer herself, she has certainly absorbed the urbane quality of his confidence, and has learned to take pride in hard work and self-improvement through his lessons. Unfortunately, she also seems to have become familiar with the diva cattiness that is sometimes associated with the profession. When I mentioned later, how mean the conversation had been, she said
"It's just something that happens with musical people, Mom. We talk like that all the time."

We talk like that all the time.

Mr. G has taught Babygirl to sing... to soar with her voice, above her insecurities and self-doubt. He's taught her to work hard, to practice, and that applause only comes with hours of practice and dedication. It's not his job to talk to her about always being kind and mindful of her conversations; that task is left to me... And, it seems, I still have talking to do.

Am I being too sensitive? Maybe. But my friend's question, which generated a conversation some 200 responses long, and the memory of my own Mean Girl ghosts from the past, seem to say not. The entire incident has left me wondering, if I could be a fly on the wall to conversations I had as a teen, if my words were ever unkind enough to stay in someone's memory. I wonder if I have former classmates who would remember me as one of the "Mean Girls", and if I've done enough to teach my daughter not to be.

How about you? Have you spoken to your kids about how their conversations affect others? Have you talked to your child about bullying, not just from a victim's point of view, but about how easy it is to speak unkind words that might have lasting ramifications? Are we doing enough to teach our kids what kindness and empathy mean?

Photo courtesy of LittleHeartsBooks.

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