Mean Girls: When the Drama Goes Too Far
By Stephanie Lynn, age 23, Massachusetts
I'm sure by now everyone has heard about the cheerleader from Lakeland, Florida who was beaten up by six teenage girls from Polk County for 30 minutes until she was unconscious and severely injured after being lured to one of their homes. The apparent reason, according to news sources, was retaliation for some trash talk the girl posted on her MySpace page. Reportedly the attack was planned, and five video cameras were used to tape it for the purpose of posting on MySpace and YouTube. Current plans are to try all six girls ages 14 to 17 as adults, along with two boys who acted as lookouts.
As you can imagine, this story has received a lot of national and even global media attention. I won't delve into or debate details about the case, like whether in fact all the girls hit Victoria Lindsay or whether only a few did. That's for the legal system to work out for each individual girl. You can read articles and view video coverage on the topic by visiting national news websites like CNN.com. The point of this article is to discuss ways that each of us can help prevent situations like this from happening within our own middle and high school circles. You're probably thinking, No way, that would never happen in my town! But each school has its drama, and it can quickly and easily get out of hand and really hurt someone, so I hope that you'll continue reading with an open mind.
Stop the Blame GameEvery time a story like this attracts national media attention everyone loves to play the blame game. Parents blame, kids blame, the media blames. The media conducts debates on whether it's the parents' fault or the internet's fault, and in the end nothing ever changes. In this case, the parents of the victim are blaming the internet, and everyone on social network sites like MySpace is saying, "Blame the parents".
So whose fault is it? The truth is nobody made the eight teenagers do this. They decided on their own. According to the older generation it always has to be someone else's fault, but the truth is we are responsible for our own actions. By the age of 14, we all know right from wrong, and what they did was obviously wrong. They knew that, yet they did it anyway, and now must deal with the consequences. Likewise, we all need to take responsibility for our actions.
End the MySpace & Real Life DramaIt's still unclear from the media whether Victoria trash talked the girls on MySpace before the attack or whether her account was hacked into and tampered with as her mother has claimed. Regardless, this is a message for everyone reading this. The MySpace drama needs to stop! Sure, you can't stop all the drama from around the country, but you can change what goes on in your circle of friends. You have more control than you may realize.
The current teen generation spends so much time texting, emailing, and sending messages on MySpace that I think we're beginning to forget basic human interaction skills. I once heard a teenager call talking in person "the old fashioned way". We need to be spending more time having positive conversations with friends and family and less time engaged in drama. A lot of people trash talk on internet social sites because they know they can "get away with it". The girls in Polk County probably didn't think they'd ever get in trouble for what they did. People think they can say whatever they want on the internet to or about other people because it's supposedly not "real life". But it is. The person you're talking to or posting negative stuff about is a living, breathing person with feelings just like you.
Girls have this thing where we always have to be fighting about situations behind each others' backs through gossip and slander, rather than sitting down and working them out before they explode into something more extreme. I think too many girls watched Mean Girls and said, "Haha, that's totally the way it is!" rather than, "Wow, we can be pretty bad, and this needs to stop", which was the point of the movie.
Since we were young kids, we've been taught to "Do unto others as we'd have them do unto us", but it starts with us. First treat others with respect if you then want respect, not the other way around.
Don't Seek RevengeWhen I was in a high school youth group several years ago, there was this girl I will call Erica. She was the girl the 'B' word was invented for. She basically categorized everyone she knew into two groups - cool or uncool. There was little or no middle ground, and she often made a snap judgment about you before even getting to truly know you as a person. If you were in the "cool" group, according to Erica, she loved you and wanted to hang out with you. But if you were "uncool" she completely shunned you. Furthermore, she would take steps to keep all of her "cool" friends away from you. It wasn't enough that you and she weren't friends; she also had to make sure everyone in her cool world had nothing to do with you. I know. I was "uncool".
When she spread a nasty rumor about me, believe me, I wanted to seek revenge. I was intensely angry with her for over a year. But if I'd sought revenge she would have just gone around saying something even worse, making me look bad! Not seeking revenge makes you the better person. What's more, it works out better for you in the long run.
The thing that happens when you choose to seek revenge is you get caught up in a vicious cycle. You seek revenge for something she did to you. In turn she becomes angry and fights back, and so on, until you totally forget what you were angry about in the first place. At some point, the hope is that each person realizes the drama just isn't worth the time and stress. There are much more productive things you could be doing, like preparing for your future or volunteering for a good cause. It's healthy to take the focus off yourself every so often. Place that energy somewhere you can make a positive impact.
Site model Chelsea from Florida (2nd from left) with her friends.
We need to learn to treat each other better in our everyday actions.
* Be happy for and congratulate your friends and rivals when something goes well for them (like a good grade, new BF, or winning performance at a sporting event) instead of being jealous. Everyone has their good and bad times. If it's a great moment for her, help her enjoy it!
* Learn to resolve fights, rather than gossip to your friends about what they did to you. If sitting down in person is considered "the old fashioned way" then so be it. There's only so much you can resolve through Instant Messenger ... usually nothing.
* Learn to accept those around you. No matter where you are, you'll always be surrounded by certain people you don't like or who don't like you. It's just a fact of life.
* Don't be so easily offended. Sometimes people say stuff and you take it way too hard when it probably wasn't meant that way. Even if it was, let the little things go!
* Learn to be encouraging. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Instead of leaving a comment on someone's video (etc.) that says, "Wow, that sucked", leave a positive comment or just click the back button and move on.
* Realize that things aren't always as they appear. Someone once left a comment on one of my photos that said "You're ugly". When I went on her MySpace page, she said about one of her own photos, "Ugh! I'm soo ugly!!" Low or fragile self-esteem is at the root of a lot of the drama, gossip, and bullying. People who need to gossip or knock someone else down to feel better about themselves lack true confidence. A girl with true confidence (not the pretend version) can be friends with whomever she chooses and encourage others because she isn't afraid what everyone will think. And most people truly envy her.
A few weeks from now everyone will be on summer vacation. A new school year will then follow, and everyone will have forgotten about the girls from Florida ... and about this past year's dramas at their own schools. The arrival of graduation will make all of it an even hazier and more distant memory. But those who are truly hurt by middle and high school dramas, however trivial and silly they may seem in retrospect, often carry the scars of this abuse for a lifetime. It's just not worth it!! It's time to set a new standard and learn how to treat each other right!
The change begins with you!