Taming the Teen Queen Bee

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Suddenly it seems that everyone is discovering how mean girls can be. But anyone who finds this new or shocking should travel back in time with me to Dryden High School, when a cabal of meanies got yours truly tossed off the cheerleading squad, just because they could. Still, today's mean girls can pick apart your daughter's reputation or hairstyle with lightning speed in instant-message sessions over the Internet or via conference calls.

Lost in all this 21st century-style aggression is the old-fashioned fact that mothers can do something about it. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes (Crown Publishing), has written a chilling account of the life our girls navigate in their school lunchrooms and hallways. Wiseman and psychologists who study mothers and daughters suggest that mothers--of the victims and the aggressors--can be hugely influential, even after trouble starts. But the first thing a mother has to do is check her own baggage. Even if you were a victim in high school, you shouldn't see your daughter's plight as an opportunity to exact revenge, since her experience may be more or less traumatic than yours. Nor should moms ignore this behavior; verbal aggression and rumor spreading have been linked to suicide in teen-girl victims of such abuse.

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Wiseman suggests that a girl who is being dissed or shunned write down exactly what happened and how she feels about it. She should then face the primary perpetrator one-on-one and say precisely what she thinks the problem is: "You've said some really awful things about me, and I don't like it." Next, she should explain what she wants the other girl to do: "I'd like to be friends with you, but you can't treat me badly." Last, your girl should boldly state, "We both have the right to walk down the hallway in peace." Wiseman says mean girls will often back down in the face of such certitude. (A version of this proved highly effective in my dealings with a certain head cheerleader, way back when.) If matters don't improve, mothers should speak to a teacher or administrator. That way, you are letting your daughter take care of her end of it while you deal with the adults.

On the other side of the issue, mothers of "queen bees" should be very specific with their daughters that the same rules for treating people decently face-to-face also apply to IM-ing or phoning. These moms should also consider controlling access to these weapons of lass destruction by removing conference-calling and call-waiting features and limiting time on the computer. And they should caution their girls against using incendiary language, which is a huge temptation with IM-ing; the word slut is the current favorite pejorative. Girls who know exactly what the rules are will get that "my mom is going to kill me" feeling in their gut when they're going astray. "A dollop of fear from Mom goes a long way, even with a queen bee," Wiseman says, showing that even high school royalty has to answer to Mom.