When it seems kid-on-kid bullying is dominating the news headlines, it’s even more disconcerting for parents to realize they need to be on the alert to a whole new mean girl.
That’s right -- mean-girl moms are the latest bullies parents and kids need to beware of. And it’s not mom-to-mom bullying, but rather moms picking on kids.
It’s called “social engineering,” a term coined by Lisa Barr, founder of the blog “GIRLilla Warfare: A Mom’s Guide to Surviving the Suburban Jungle” and author of Fugitive Colors. In a viral article that was shared 800,000 times, Barr chronicles the stories she’s heard and experienced through her kids at the hands of mean-girl moms.
“Everyone’s heard of helicopter parenting, this is taking it one step further,” Barr said. “It’s social bullying, the desire to elevate their kids’ social status at the expense of other kids.”
She tells the story of an 11-year-old girl who was new to her town. A mother snuck onto the bus the girl was riding and essentially roped off the back few rows for a group of eight girls who were her daughter’s friends. When the new girl asked if she could sit with the girls, the mother told her no and that the seats were reserved.
Jamie Kanner, a Chicago-area mom of four, can attest to this behavior. When her daughter Rachel was in seventh grade, Kanner said a mom used social engineering to keep her daughter out of a certain camp cabin.
“We had moved to a new town and chose a camp for her, not knowing that three or four other girls from the school would also be attending," Kanner told ABC News. "One of the moms of those girls, who had been attending the camp for years, called the camp director that she was friendly with and requested my daughter not be allowed in the cabin with the popular girls.”
Kanner said she didn’t know exactly why the mom took this step, but did say that her daughter didn’t exactly fit the mold of most of the girls in their new town, calling her “different and quirky.”
Kanner added that the teachers in the new town had taken a liking to Rachel, which may have caused some jealously on the part of the other kids and parents.
Jamie and Rachel didn’t immediately realize what had happened. It was only when word got around the camp about the mother’s call to the director that Rachel found out.
“The bullying didn’t stop when camp was over,” said Kanner. "It continued all through junior high, in person and on social media.”
Barr said it’s often a parent’s own insecurities that fuel the desire to make sure their kids are in the “in” crowd. And in order for their kids to stay popular, moms will purposefully leave out the kids they deem not cool or attractive enough.
“There’s this insecurity that they were not the ‘it’ girl, and ‘I will make sure my kid doesn't have that experience,’” Barr said.
One of the most common scenarios, Barr said, is parents handing out birthday party invitations at school. If there are 12 girls in the class, they may invite 10, but the invitations are handed out in full view of everyone, clearly sending the message of who is in and who is out.
Parenting expert Stacy Kaiser said this mean-mom behavior is “so common everywhere.”
Kaiser agrees the bad behavior on the part of the parents is more a reflection of their own issues than the child they’re leaving out. “Parents who act this way are usually insecure and often unhappy themselves. Don't let their misery rub off on you. Don't let them put you into a state where you were questioning yourself or your child," she said.
But shouldn’t parents – who’ve presumably experienced their fair share of pain in the delicate teenage years, be more sensitive to kids on the outs?
Maybe not. “They’re completely unaware of the incredible damage they're doing,” said Kanner. Still, it might not be best to approach the other parent as it might make things worse for the child on the receiving end of the bullying, Kanner noted.
Kaiser agreed. “If you really feel as if you want to say something to this mean mom, make sure that you find an appropriate time to share your feelings and do so in a respectful and kind way. Just keep in mind that sometimes people like this won't change because they don't want to change," she said.