An op-ed in today’s NYT says that the idea that “mean girls” exist in high schools is a myth. Excerpt:
However, many of the news reports and inflamed commentaries have gone beyond expressing outrage at the teenagers involved and instead invoked such cases as evidence of a modern epidemic of “mean girls” that adults simply fail to comprehend. Elizabeth Scheibel, the district attorney in the South Hadley case, declined to charge school officials who she said were aware of the bullying because of their “lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships.” A People magazine article headlined “Mean Girls” suggested that a similar case two years ago raised “troubling questions” about “teen violence” and “cyberspace wars.” Again and again, we hear of girls hitting, brawling and harassing.
But this panic is a hoax. We have examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None show a recent increase in girls’ violence; in fact, every reliable measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years. Major offenses like murder and robbery by girls are at their lowest levels in four decades. Fights, weapons possession, assaults and violent injuries by and toward girls have been plunging for at least a decade.
This is ridiculous. The entire analysis is built around an examination of crime statistics. The kind of emotional violence mean girls (and mean boys) visit on their victims in high schools does not get reported to police. Almost nothing that was done to me in my high school would have counted as a crime, and I would never have considered calling the police. I’m glad that the crime stats on “mean girl” violence have been going down, but to claim that this means there are no such things as mean girls, or that the school bullying problem more generally is overblown, is not only absurd, it’s potentially dangerous. Phoebe Prince wasn’t murdered by the hands of mean girls. She killed herself, driven to it by the relentless emotional cruelty of mean girls.
I know someone in therapy because of his abusive childhood. He told me once that he kept saying to his therapist that his childhood couldn’t have been abusive, because his father had never hit him. His therapist finally made him see that the relentless emotional cruelty he endured — the yelling, the humiliation, and so forth — had been genuinely abusive. It completely changed his life, what he went through, and he still struggles with it mightily today. And nothing that man’s father did would have shown up on a crime statistics report.