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Your daughter doesn’t need to fall victim to the bullying tactics of the queen bee. You can empower her by equipping her emotionally.


She’s no longer invited to parties, she’s on the receiving end of sarcastic comments and has been deleted from the WhatsApp group; she’s slowly being ejected by her own friends, lead by the queen bee. This was the case with Lauren, Grade 8, who was bullied by Beth, a girl she had been friends with since Grade 5. She became so depressed, as a result, that she refused to go to school.
This scenario is rife among girls at pre-adolescent age, when they are entering into “girl world”, which is often dominated by cliques led by queen bees – those girls in a position of power over their peers. Cape Town-based psychologist Mareli Fischer says queen bee behaviour is described as relational aggression, a subtle form of bullying. Rosalind Wiseman, in her book Queen Bees and Wannabes, illustrates the problem with this remark from a 12 year old: “Yes, we’re exclusive, but it’s just popularity. I’m the queen, but I’m not mean. People exclude themselves. Nobody has the power to do that. I’m perfect and I’m not in denial.”

The queen bee is my best friends …

From early on, Beth stood out as the leader, the trendsetter, the one with the best ideas. She also controlled all decision making for the group and would punish, ridicule or ignore anyone who disagreed with her, outshone her academically or in sport, and received too much attention from a boy. Beth decided who was allowed in the group, where they would spend break times and what kinds of activities were desirable for them to participate in. And the group fell in line.
Lauren, being more an observer than a leader, found it difficult to stand up to Beth because, while Beth railroaded everyone, being friends with her brought Lauren status, popularity and a social compass.
In an emotionally mature world, behaviour such as this carries no weight because friends value kindness and loyalty over being cool, pretty and popular. Until then, however, “friendship” with a queen bee can be devastating to your daughter – the not-a-girl, not-yet-a-woman.

Profiling …

… the victim

It can be difficult to tell when your child is being led by a queen bee because during the preteen years girls tend to be more in the presence of their friends than their parents, says Kathryn Muir, resident psychologist at a private all-girls school in Joburg. Listen to your intuition. Out of her own adolescent feelings of awkwardness and ineptitude, you may sense a loss of individuality and values and an almost obsessive “needing” what a particular girl or group has. Her words are not her own and you may see her being mean or acting in a way that you never expected of her. She may also withdraw, seem down and confused, and struggle to pinpoint situations that made her feel uncomfortable. Doubting herself is true of the girl being targeted by the queen bee.

… the queen bee

It’s important to note that a queen bee label is not an attack on a strong personality, but rather on bad behaviour. “There is nothing wrong with being popular, admired and socially adept; rather it becomes an issue when the particular girl uses these admirable qualities in ways that are hurtful and destructive,” points out Cape Town psychologist Gary Koen.
Although parents play a vital role in managing this issue, the classroom and playground may be the best place to gauge queen bee behaviour. Muir highlights that teachers should be alert for subtle, nonverbal behaviour such as rolling eyes, a sideways glance, a sarcastic look, turning a back on another, sending notes and excluding others. Be aware of girls who are able to persuade other girls. Muir says, “Call this behaviour inappropriate just as you would when a child swears at or hits someone.” The bullying is not as overt as it often is with boys. It is easy to miss, leaving everyone feeling confused as to what really just happened. Listen to girls who tell you that there’s a problem; don’t dismiss it or doubt what you saw.

Do as I do

So, what causes your sweet girl to grow into a bully? Fischer speaks about a dysfunction in making friends, which is a developmental skill. “Today’s children grow up with fewer siblings and opportunities for unstructured play and less freedom to explore friendships than that of children a decade ago,” she says. Also, a popular parenting style today promotes a high sense of individual entitlement ahead of getting along with others. Parents often focus on their child’s academic skills and can quite easily neglect social skills, which results in a self-centred child.
Children are quite egocentric, says Fischer, and parents are the first teachers of empathy, which is needed to successfully negotiate the many social situations they will find themselves in. Giving reasons for the rules you enforce and offering explanations for your decision making, can result in children who cooperate, share and initiate positive social connections.

Girl world

“Although girls see the adult world as far removed from theirs, they’re watching us. Model what it looks like to enjoy positive relationships, deal with conflict constructively, maintain healthy individuality and make good choices,” states Muir. By observing how you share, support and communicate respectfully with people outside your family, as opposed to disregarding them or behaving in an exclusive way, your children are likely to do the same.
Setting a good example is an unwritten rule that extends, of course, to all the adults in a child’s life. When the guidance counsellor at Lauren and Beth’s school was alerted to the bullying, she thought to take a step back and remind the girls in the grade about sisterhood and how women should collaborate with and celebrate each other.

Dealing with queen bees and wannabes

Take the situation seriously but deal with it calmly, showing compassion while being firm. Whether your child is the bully or the bullied, your job is to empower your child by equipping them emotionally.
  • “I’m going to call you on it.” Name her behaviour as you see it. “When you roll your eyes at Samantha, it’s like you’re saying ‘You’re pathetic’, and that’s not on.”
  • Let’s build a strong inner life. This means developing a healthy self-esteem and strong intuition. When your daughter is comfortable with who she is deep down, without feeling reliant on her looks, talent or a particular skill, she may feel more secure about her place in the world.
  • Confidence is your friend. Bullying ends when she takes responsibility for herself and moves away from the clique.
  • Behaviour you can respect. Model appropriate behaviour, especially when you feel angry, disappointed and threatened, and ensure you aren’t engaging in bullying yourself.
  • Don’t abuse Facebook. Monitor their social media interactions and intervene with a timeout, if needed.
  • “I get it.” Try to grasp your daughter’s world; ask questions and show a real interest in her experience. Don’t lecture.
  • “I won’t make threatening calls to the school.” Do not coerce your child into a course of action – that is no different to being the queen bee.
  • Talk and walk assertively. Show her she can be firm without being mean.
  • Express your emotions. She should express anger in a direct manner and not underhandedly.
  • Seek a more accepting friendship circle. Ask her to identify the characteristics of a good friend.

Lucille Kemp