*Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Annie Downs. Annie is an author and speaker based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her new book Speak Love reminds teen girls that their words matter and waves goodbye to the mean girl mentality. Read more at anniedowns.com or follow her on twitter @anniedowns.
We followed her into the classroom. Two of us. One of her. She needed to know that she was wrong, that she had made a mistake and the two of us had been voted the group representatives to tell her so. There was no yelling or shoving or violence. Just words. Venom-laced words, warning her to never do or say that again.
That was the last time she came to our church.
It makes me feel sick, the fact that I have mean girl memories. It reminds me of the actual truth – insecurities ruled my life and others suffered at the hands (mouth?) of my pain. I needed other people’s approval to even attempt to like myself and I was pretty willing to hurt others if that meant I was liked.
I’m different now. I see the power of words and I work to choose kindness over insecurities because I’ve tried both. Being the mean girl doesn’t quench my thirsty soul. It’s like soda- it may taste good for a minute, but it makes you want more. It doesn’t refresh or quench like water. Like grace.
That was twenty years ago, and I can still look culture and see the mean girl mentality pervasive in schools, places of worship, homes, and the internet.
You see it too, don’t you? You see the way girls treat each other. We may have been taught “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” but have you ever heard a less-true statement? Words hurt. Words break. And if we don’t stand up to the mean girl mentality, you will always see it.
But we don’t have to.
You could be the last generation to ever know who the mean girl is. We can get rid of her and that starts with making sure that you and I aren’t BEING the mean girl. When you feel the pull or the pressure or the desire to be her, remember this:
1. The mean girl never wins in the end.
It may look like she has won when you see her gloating at a football game or writing biting comments on Instagram. But the truth is that she is hurting and if she keeps up this behavior, she will continue to hurt long after you know her name or care what she thinks of you.
2. Forget the pile mentality.
There is not a pile and you don’t need to get to the top of it. In school, there is a feeling of social hierarchy, but ignore it. It’s not real life. The most popular girl at your school? She’ll go to college and be a freshman and no one will know her. The pile is an illusion.
3. Like what you like.
It’s hard to be the mean girl when you are having a great time. If you are hanging with people you like (in real life or online) and participating in activities you like (whether they are labeled “cool” or not), you don’t have time or energy to be mean. You are you on purpose- like the things you like, like the people you like, and be glad to be you.
4. Use your words well.
You have so much power with your words. Don’t quit using them, don’t walk away from the internet or your friends. Recognize that you can change someone’s whole day with just a kind word.
5. Be brave.
It isn’t easy swimming upstream, going against culture and deciding to stand up when others back away. Be brave with your words, be brave with your friendships. Don’t be the girl that has to be at the top of the pile. Be the girl who is wise enough to recognize the pile doesn’t exist and brave enough to build something new there.