Most of us remember that 'popular' group of girls at school that often made other girls' lives an absolute misery! This group usually regarded themselves as the prettiest, the smartest and the 'coolest', but in reality all they were were the meanest! With those sort of characteristics it is hard to believe that they were perceived as the 'popular group' but in reality they were often the girls who matured very early, were the first to have boyfriends and no matter how mean they were, most of the other girls in the class would have done anything to be in with them! I like to call them the 'evil princess' group but they're also referred to by many as the 'mean girls', a term made even more popular by the movie of the same name. They're usually extremely easy to pick in a year group because they are quite attractive and often dressed as close to bending the school rules on dress code as possible, but apart from their obvious physical attributes, it is often their attitude towards others in the group that make them stand out for all the wrong reasons.
To sit back sometimes and watch how these 'Queen Bees' (there's always a Queen of the evil princesses!) rule the roost in a year group can be quite disturbing. In many cases, they don't even have to say anything to have an effect. Simply giving a look can move entire groups of girls from one part of the room to the other and the power they have to make others feel bad about their choices, including around alcohol, is frightening!
I had a terrible time in high school as far as bullying was concerned - certain people made my life an absolute misery and, as a result, if I see any obvious bullying (no matter what form) I will say something. The part of my presentation to Year 10s when this group usually rears its ugly head is when I start talking about choosing not to drink and the growing number of non-drinkers we are seeing amongst this age group. Although not always as obvious and pointing or turning around and laughing at those they know who don't drink (although that can certainly happen), more subtle forms of bullying are just as damaging and you can literally feel how uncomfortable some of those non-drinking girls are beginning to feel because of the power this group has, almost wanting the earth to swallow them up so they don't have to deal with their judgement ... It is at this point that I sometimes bring up my thoughts on the 'evil princess' group and how sad it would be if a group of girls like that existed amongst the young ladies in front of me ...
I've shared this email from a Year 10 girl with readers before, but it's a great reminder of just how powerful this 'evil princess' group can be and how important it is to challenge them and their views whenever we can:
"In my year there is that distinct group you called the "evil princesses" or along those lines ... These girls have been making me feel terrible that I didn't go out and get drunk or hook up with random people at festivals for years. I had been trying unsuccessfully for years to look beyond the "cool factor" but your presentation really helped me to finally see how pathetic those scenarios were.
I will be forever thankful towards you for helping me realise this before I felt pressured into doing something I would regret for the rest of my life. I do not have any stories like the ones you told us, and now hopefully I never will.
However, there is something else I think should be brought to your attention. These girls didn't start drinking or experimenting with boys/drugs this year, the year before or the year before that. Within my year, all these girls started partying in Yr 7 and I have seen so many friends who were top of their class turn into something skanky, dumb and are now the most vicious people I know. While these girls may be a small percentage, they do more than enough to have an impact on the majority."
My mentioning of this group led to a positive outcome in this case but you do have to be careful that highlighting an issue, whatever it may be, may actually 'fan the flames' and make the situation worse. If any teacher had highlighted the fact that I was being bullied in front of my class, I would have wanted to die! It was much easier for me to sit back and try not to attract attention, hoping the bullies wouldn't notice me and leave me alone. If I see bullying take place (and that's what making a judgement about someone because they choose not to drink is!) I will certainly make a general statement about unacceptable behaviour in the group but to pinpoint a particular incident and bring attention to the person being bullied can be devastating. After making my views on bad behaviour clearly known, once I have finished presenting I make a point of approaching anyone I felt had been judged by others and simply ask them what they thought of the talk - trying to connect with them one-on-one in some way rather than potentially making them feel even more embarrassment or shame by specifically mentioning the bullying incident.
Although extremely difficult, it is important for us to try and 'take back the power' that this group have amassed over time (unfortunately it starts very early and it is often learned behaviour from 'evil princess' mothers! I'm sure many of you know exactly who I'm talking about there!), and at the same time empower others in the class to feel good about themselves and the choices they make, whether others like them or not!
Now some of you may be wondering why I am focussing on the girls and not discussing the social pressure and bullying young men experience in school around alcohol and other issues (because it's certainly there and can be just as damaging). Of course, this shouldn't be ignored but in my experience it is this small, core group of girls that start to drink alcohol extremely early (much earlier than their male counterparts - mainly because they are hanging out with older boys), drink a great deal on a regular basis and are incredibly powerful and influential in a school that are particularly problematic. Put simply, the boys want to go out with them and many of the girls want to be just like them! Even though the other girls may not necessarily like their behaviour, this group appear to be attractive to young men (often for all the wrong reasons) and have great power - it's not really surprising that at this stage in their development, many crave to be a part of this 'inner circle'.
I need to say that there was no obvious 'evil princess' group in Clare's year group. Yes, there was a very clear drinking group but I saw no overt bullying, no snide looks when I spoke about the 'non-drinkers'. But, nevertheless, for this young woman, going through that very difficult time of life called adolescence, because she didn't drink alcohol she felt she did not fit in. She wasn't being accepted by the popular group, wasn't being invited to parties and felt isolated. That can be tough! When she said to me "Does it get any better?", all the horrors of my high school life flooded back and I just wanted to scream - "It gets so much better!!!"
Whether you're a parent of a child who doesn't always fit in, or your teen is at the centre of the popular group, you can play a huge role here ...
- for those who have teens who may be on the outer, for whatever reason, it is vital that you keep connected and support them. You can't make your child popular (and neither can the school), some children are not going to be invited to every social event and you can't buy, force or coerce peer acceptance. Of course, bullying in any form is not acceptable, but there's a big difference between not being popular and being bullied - sometimes parents find it difficult to distinguish between the two. It's certainly not going to be pleasant watching your child struggle in this area but with lots of love and support, as well as doing your best to talk through with them how they're feeling (without embarrassing them, always remembering that not having lots of popular friends can be seen as being a failure by some teens), most get through. Admittedly, they're often a little battered by the experience, but they'll survive ...
- for parents of popular teens you have a huge role in making sure that your child understands that with popularity comes great responsibility. Too often, these parents see that their children fit in, have an active social life and, more often than not, are doing well at school and, as a result, believe they've done a great job and then sit back and relax. If your child is popular it is vital that you discuss issues around appropriate behaviour, social exclusion and bullying. It is important to pull them up if you hear them talking about excluding or judging others in their class. Even if your child is not doing anything wrong, they may be turning a blind eye to others and their behaviour - they need to learn that not saying anything is often just as bad as actually doing it! It takes a tough teen to pull up members of their social group for bad behaviour but it demonstrates great character and shows that you have instilled good values in your child. The real problem is, as I've already said, when it comes to the 'evil princess' group, they've usually inherited all their unpleasant traits from their 'evil princess' mothers - who are just as nasty as their daughters! The same can be said for boys who are bullies - take a look at their father and they're cut from exactly the same cloth!