Last week I read a blog by Linda Stade on Girls and their Frenemies. It considered the potential destructional influence of friendship groups on adolescent girls’ behaviour. Psychologists call it “relational aggression” and it may include exclusion, gossip, the silent treatment, belittling or conditional friendship. The need for wanting to be included in a group, to fit in, even if it means adopting a mean manner, can make some lovely pupils behave really badly.
I have seen this played out in countless generations, including my own, where part of being an adolescent is trying to find your place in a social network. Impressing and belonging are very important. Boys traditionally use physical strength and humour, girls use communication and interpersonal skills.
It is important to remember that meanness fundamentally comes from a place of fear, a fear of not belonging or not being good enough. As they go through puberty not all adolescents have the language, confidence and emotional intelligence to reflect and stop it. However, it is learned behaviour and learned behaviour can be unlearned; adolescents need role models who are modelling appropriate behaviour.
Linda Stade recommends that we make friendship “cool” by talking about the great qualities of our friends, verbally celebrating their greatness rather than niggling about their weaknesses. We need to be good role models, we must teach kindness, compassion and empathy and we should teach children to be up standers, and supporters of each other.
The very next day, after reading Linda’s blog, I listened to our Sixth Form Leadership Group’s final assembly, led by our Head Girl, Anna Hunt, where the girls did just that. They celebrated the achievements of the School and their peers. They recognised and applauded individual girls in the community who they felt deserved praise. From the lacrosse team, to the individual who encouraged the Sixth Form to bake cakes, to the girls who took part in House Glee or the girl who stood up in the Sixth Form assembly, and encouraged her fellow sixth formers to get involved with a fundraising campaign.
The Leadership Group celebrated not just each other, but others in the school community. These role models made it “cool” to say kind things to one another and when the School left the assembly so many more girls left standing prouder than before.
Being kind to one another is fundamental to a successful community and it made me proud that our school community understand the value of this principle.