Rosalind Wiseman stepped on a media land mine in 2001 when an article about her work with cliques was featured in the New York Times Magazine. Entitled “Mean Girls and the New Movement to Tame Them,” it discussed Wiseman’s work with the Empower Program, where she taught middle-school girls about nasty social behaviors and how to stop them. “It was an extraordinary, mindblowing experience,” Wiseman says of the media fallout that followed the article. “I got responses from all over world—from England, Ireland, Australia, multiple requests from movie companies, and the Times got hundreds of letters. The emotional response has been unbelievable—we’re finally acknowledging what we do to each other.” Wiseman’s book on the topic, Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence (Crown, 2002), was followed by Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads (Crown, 2006). Wiseman has also created the Owning Up program, which helps both boys and girls treat each other with respect. Wiseman reveals her insights on cliques to Daughters.
A teachable moment about ethics
We like to think that girls’ cliques are worse today than they used to be, but I know that’s not true. While writing the book I was struck by how universal an experience this seems to be, but it’s a universal experience that no one talked about. I had 60- and 30- year-old women follow me around at parties to tell me about clique incidents as if they had just happened yesterday—all the girls’ names are still right there. They told me about situations identical to the ones I’m working with right now.
I think this kind of behavior has always been around. It may start a little younger than it used to. Girls are sexualized at a younger age and will deal with these friendship issues at a younger age too. I see 8-year-old girls, even 4-year-old girls, anointing certain friends and excluding others. There are always going to be Queen Bees, even in the poorest schools. But typically the wealthier a community is, the more of a problem this is.
One thing that is worse today is the way parents behave. I think that today’s parents are either micromanaging their kids’ lives or they are totally out of the picture, which is equally problematic. Kids in these cases will do anything to create space or get the appropriate attention.
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