Mean-girl behavior, typically referred to by professionals as relational or social aggression and by terrified parents as bullying, has existed for as long as there have been ponytails to pull and notes to pass (today’s insults are texted instead). But while the calculated round of cliquishness and exclusion used to set in over fifth-grade sleepover parties, warfare increasingly permeates the early elementary school years.The article admits that there are few longitudinal studies to answer whether bullying is starting younger, or if it is just recognized in younger kids by more-attuned parents and teachers, or if it is an exaggeration of hyper-vigilant helicopter parents. The article is well worth a read, and includes some exploration of what might be causing mean-girl bullying to start younger.
“Girls absolutely exclude one another in kindergarten,” said Michelle Anthony, a psychologist and co-author of the new book “Little Girls Can Be Mean.” When her own daughter was manipulated by a “friend” into racing down a slide booby-trapped with mud, making it appear to a group of boys as though she’d soiled her pants, Dr. Anthony was taken aback. “You don’t expect to run into that level of meanness in a 7-year-old.”
But at a time when teenage cyber-bullying is making headlines, parents fear that the onset of bullying behavior is trickling down. According to a new Harris survey of 1,144 parents nationwide, 67 percent of parents of 3- to 7-year-olds worry that their children will be bullied; parents of preschoolers and grade-school-age children are significantly more likely to worry than parents of teenagers. Such fears may be justified. One recent survey of 273 third graders in Massachusetts found that 47 percent have been bullied at least once; 52 percent reported being called mean names, being made fun of or teased in a hurtful way; and 51 percent reported being left out of things on purpose, excluded from their group of friends or completely ignored at least once in the past couple of months.
Still hoping for change
4 weeks ago