Mean Girl Behavior in Elementary School and Why It Stunts Child DevelopmentKatie Hurley, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, wrote an article for Psychology Today, concerning research that proves that bullying in young ages leads to “poor mental health for teens.” Hurley states that the “mean girl narrative” considered a “rite of passage” to many adults and children. Movies and literature heavily rely on the mean girl persona. This narrative includes both boys and girls, but often this mainly concerns girls because they learn how to be aggressive in more subtle ways, whereas boys are immediately physical. She is someone that is awful and viciously bullies the protagonist for no apparent reason. The main objective of the stories, that so many young girls watch, is to overcome the mean girl and put her back in her place! These stories are problematic in the fact that they 1) make it look like that students have to have a person bully them to have a “real” school experience, 2) the whole goal of life at the moment is to get back at the mean girl and do something really amazing to stand up for themselves, and 3) the actions of the mean girl can sometimes validate the real life mean girl bullies.This “narrative” is called relational aggression. According to study.com, the definition of relational aggression “is non-physical aggression towards another with the purpose of bringing down their reputation or social status or heightening one’s own social status.” Relational aggression can include gossip, spreading rumors about others, embarrassment in public, social exclusion, and alliance building (or cliques). This aggression is not only contained to face to face bullying. Many elementary age children have some access to some sort of technology which can then cause the relational aggression to become cyberbullying. The major developmental problems that arise from relational aggression are behavioral problems, eating disorders, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and actions, and debilitating depressive symptoms and anxiety. These issues may not expose themselves at the young age that they children are bullied, but may get worse as the children grows and eventually come to light as the child struggles to develop. The author gives examples of solutions to help kids “stand up to peer negativity.” A few of these are to educate the children on bullying, teach “upstander” behavior, and to create an empathic environment. EDUCATEParents must define what bullying, cyberbullying, and relational aggression is to their children. Hurley says to give “concrete examples” and ask the children if they’ve ever witnessed anything like what they defined. She also suggests to role play so that the child can identify what the differences are between teasing, arguing, and actual bullying. “UPSTANDER” BEHAVIOR Aside from simply walking away from the situation and ignoring it, children can refute whatever rumors are being spread about the or others, they can say something positive to whatever negative thing is said, students that aren’t the victim can comfort the victim of bullying by saying something nice to them, support the victim, and children can also get help from adults if the victim can’t or won’t do it by themselves. CREATING AN EMPATHIC ENVIRONMENT A hard thing to remember about bullying, is that whoever is doing the bullying is having their own individual problems. Empathic environments need to be created by schools and families to help children with understanding compassion and empathy and to show that these two things are more important than trophies and test scores. To create an empathic environment, parents and teachers should start, and also end, their days by “checking-in” their emotions. Share your emotions and also listen to what they have to say. Parents and teacher can read books about empathy with their children and students. The adults should also help their children figure out ways to help when their classmates or friends are not being nice. A study from the University of Kansas was to “evaluate the associations between two forms of peer aggression and victimization (physical and relational) and risk for both willingness to engage in substance use and actual use in a sample of second- through fourth-grade students.” this study focused mainly on whether or not bullied students would turn to drugs. They found that the findings are “consistent” with problem behavior theory. This theory suggests that if one type of behavioral problem is exhibited in a student, then that student has the potential to be at risk for other behaviors. The reasons why these students may turn to substance abuse is to help with coping and self-medicating and possibly a failure to connect with social institutions. Cognitive-behavioral interventions are an effective way to reduce symptoms of internalization in children which could then help them cope with their stresses in a positive way, instead of turning to substance abuse. The findings in this study also suggest that elementary age children were more likely to turn to substances than older children. This could possibly be because older children have been exposed to anti-drug use, whereas younger children, below the 4th grade haven’t. The Human Development textbook gives a few steps to help prevent bullying in the classroom. They are:Don’t be a bystander.Train every single adult employed for the school to recognize what bullying is and how to respond to it. Be visible and an “obvious presence.”Assist students in developing real self-esteem.Incorporate in lessons that all forms of bullying are wrong, hurtful, and harmful.Implement anti-bullying programs and stick with them.Overall, bullying has the means to cause destruction to children, whether or not that be through an eating disorder, lack of social skills, or substance abuse. In my professional life, I will take this information and create empathic environments for my students and encourage their parents to do the same. The study also has encouraged me to start anti-drug campaigns in my classrooms, no matter the age.