Breaking The Generational Cycle
Spare The Rod
My first thought, on watching the judge chop up Mean Girl on TV,
was to howl with laughter. This was fantasy retribution for all
those years I suffered at this child’s hands. Now, mind you, I
never saw this girl before in my life. But I recognized the
attitude. The hand on the hips. The dismissive shifting away of
her eyes. The glower. I remember it well from my youth, from my
adolescence. And, even today, from my church. These little
bitches—and, yes, that’s what they are—who parade around the
church, rolling their eyes and sucking their teeth and mocking
everything and everyone. You ask them to please not chew gum in
the sanctuary, and they twirl their hair seductively while
looking you up and down—still chewing like cows—before either
sucking their teeth and walking away or, reluctantly, taking the
gum out, while glowering at you.
I’m a strong advocate of conflict resolution by violence. I mean, I love Dr. Phil and all of that, but I really do believe the world would be a much better pace if parents would, for the love of God, please be parents. Mean Girl’s slow eye roll and sneer is just a delay tactic, so she can not lose face in front of her so-called friends (who really aren’t her friends at all, but, that’s another story). Having not long ago discovered this super-power, her emergent sexuality, she’s trying that out on me, loathing my very existence while trying to manipulate me at the same time; something I find inherently disrespectful to God (standing in His sanctuary while trying your seductive move on His priest). Being disrespectful to God is a lot more dangerous than simply disrespecting me.
A high school girl giving me a come-hither glare while twirling her hair and reluctantly taking the gum out of her mouth is just some dopey kid testing limits. Now, how stupid are grown men who respond to that? And what a terrible message that sends, that all men, 8 to 80, can be manipulated by whatever un-ripe goodies Mean Girl’s got on display in her fruit basket. An underage come on is just an invitation to prison and hell. It is a desperate cry for hell, a request for boundaries. Men should, ideally, be men and show Mean Girl fatherly discipline and fatherly maturity. But, the reason Mean Girl tries flirting with grown men is she knows it works. She’s learning to use her sex as a weapon. She’s an eight-year old with a Glock; waving around a deadly weapon she does not fully control. One that can, just as easily, be taken away and used against her.
The one place where Mean Girl’s powers should be muted is the church house. Of course, in real life, there’s virtually no training given to church leadership about how to deal with Mean Girl. Ideally, you just call over one of the church mothers and that’s the end of that. But, nowadays, it’s never that simple. Mean Girl knows you can’t really hit her anymore. It’s not like the old days when straightening out Mean Girl only required a church mother and a frying pan.
Now, we have all of these modern rules, crafted by well-meaning psychotherapists and voted into law by nervous middle-class types who, in large measure, have never dealt with these kinds of problems well. The anxious, hand-wringing soccer mom patiently talking to her child behind a closed door—a child likely cursing her out and telling her to go to hell; these are the kinds of people who think massive government interference on parenting is a good idea: it's because they can't handle it.
There's an enormous difference between straightening out Mean Girl and child abuse. A red bottom is good parenting. A broken arm is child abuse. I know of no parent—black or white or otherwise—who can't tell the difference between a spanking and cracking a child's ribs. That the government, apparently, no longer trusts us to know the difference explains a lot about this country.
In the old days, I could punish Mean Girl by making her wash dishes or vacuum the sanctuary. Not anymore. You see, Mean Girl’s mom—if she’s around at all—is, just as likely, a Mean Girl herself. This is where Mean Girl learned how to be Mean. And you call this mom in, and here comes a fourteen year older version of Mean Girl: hostile, defensive, disrespectful. Most mommies, especially most single mommies, I’ve dealt with go immediately on the warpath if I say anything at all about their child. If the pastor or the teacher or the guidance counselor calls the parent in, now it’s a whole new drama. One whiff of these folks, of these grown Mean Girls, usually tells the story. And, I know, immediately, that I won’t be able to get any traction at all with Mean Girl because Mean Girl has no functional parent. She has a child parenting her, a self-absorbed and severely damaged person who will make Mean Girl's behavior about herself. Rather than deal with Mean Girl's actual issues, Mean Mom will make this a referendum on her parenting, an insult to her, personally. In defending Mean Girl—usually irrationally and loudly—Mean Mom is actually defending herself. Having never developed much in the way of communication skills, she will lash out at the authority figure— the teacher, the preacher— regardless of how obviously mean Mean Girl has been.
In order to function as a parent, you have to have equal parts wisdom and maturity. Nobody wants to believe their child is, in fact, Mean Girl (or Mean Boy), but a good parent, a loving parent, will not write their child a blank check to run around terrorizing people. A loving parent will dispense equal parts of love and accountability. They’ll want to know the whole story. Not because they don’t love their child but because they do. Because they’re not a fool.
Mean Girl’s Mom is, quite often, just that—a fool. She’s in denial about her own child’s meanness, even when she can see it in action. More than likely, Mean Girl is not so mean around Mean Girl’s Mom because Mean Girl’s Mom is, well, mean herself. Mean Girl’s Mom won’t tolerate Mean Girl’s crap at home, but Mean Girl’s Mom expects the rest of us to put up with it. Mean Girl’s Mom has, undoubtedly, received several if not dozens of reports of her child’s bad behavior, but insists it’s all some conspiracy theory. People out to get her child. Like we don’t have anything better to do than make up this nonsense about Mean Girl.
I’m fed up with Mean Girl.
I’ve been sick of her for decades now. And I’m absolutely
frustrated by my ineffectiveness to minister to this person and
by the church’s overall fear of taking any action at all to make
this person less hateful and annoying.
Watching the judge tear into her, making her cry, absolutely thrilled me. When Mean Aunt tried to run interference, coming to Mean Girl’s defense, the judge ate up Mean Aunt at the same time. Mean Aunt, is, in fact, the problem. She is, I tell you, Mean Girl plus nine years or so. They both have dysfunctional coping methods. They both have extremely thin skin and bad attitudes and their first mode is always one of attack.
My first thought about all of this was that the judge should have taken a moment to look into Mean Girl’s home life. Girls, black girls most especially, have a really tough road to follow. Born into innocence and light, the happy and trusting smile is, by adolescence, more often than not, changed into a suspicious stare or, worse, a secretive mask. What happened to this girl between four and fourteen to change her very personality from one of unguarded trust and optimism to one of protective caution?
I think it’s fair to say all girls—black, white, green—will be targets of some kind of abuse as they grow up. While physically as strong as boys during their early years, most girls are taught to be, well, girls—more submissive, less violent—than boys. Boys, meanwhile, are allowed to be more aggressive. And, desiring to emulate their big brothers, adolescents and, sadly, grown men whose lives are all about “getting some,” many kids, I mean young kids, act out sexual roles on young girls long before these boys have any clue what any of it means.
I mean, eight-year old boys calling six-year old girls “bitch.,” And the mad rush, at very early ages, to be sexual with girls. Girls who want to play, to be welcome, in their community circles, but who suddenly find boys' hands where they shouldn’t be. Most boys aren’t really worried about aggressive girls and their hands, but girls are taught, from early on, to be wary of this kind of thing. To be protective. And there goes that wonderful, God-given innocence as, early on, girls learn they must protect themselves from boys, many of which will literally punch them to demonstrate their affection because that’s all they know.
Many if not most black girls arrive at the threshold of adolescence having learned quite a few lessons the hard way. Many more arrive with a bag full of secrets. Experiences—shadowy moments, some they initiated, most they did not—that have frightened them and, likely, damaged them, leaving them on adolescence’s shore with the steely and furtive glower of a predator. No fourteen year-old should have a hunter’s eye—that narrow glare and purposeful stare as they canvass the scene and pick out victims. To many Mean Girls, there are really only two types of people—victims and perpetrators. They have, likely, been a victim themselves and have learned unfortunate lessons the hard way. And, rather than safeguard or protect the weaker kid, she has now become the perpetrator, the hunter. And all boys, whether kids on the playground, or deacons in the church house, are, to Mean Girl, the exact same boy or man who has taught her those unfortunately lessons, who has exchanged her hopeful smile for the predator’s glower. Her budding sexuality now gives her a weapon to make fools of these boys, to pay them all back.
Not Mean, Afraid: Defining herself by pushing you away.
Mean Girl’s meanness towards girls is often a different story. I
thought dragging little kids to court and embarrassing them on
national TV was a terrible idea. “Good for ‘em,” Laurice Powell,
a Colorado Springs Special Education teacher told me. I went to
her looking for some kindly Ann Landers quotes, but instead got
“This is the same mistake a lot of educators and ministers make, blaming that behavior on the family, on the home life. Sure, that’s true in a way, but sometimes Mean Girl is just Mean Girl.
“She’s a bully. Bullying is all about self-esteem. She’s picking on the weaker kid—never somebody who can clean her clock. She’s trying to impress her friends or to make friends or to keep the friends she has. It’s all an external act that has fairly little to do with the kid being teased or bullied.
“It’s all about Mean Girl’s immaturity. Sure, maybe Mean Girl comes from a broken home and her drunken common-law step-dad beats her or worse. But, just as often, Mean Girl comes from a fully-intact family of normal people, reasonable people, educated people. Two cars and a dog. Sometime, Mean Girl is just Mean Girl.
“She wears all the latest gear. She has all the latest toys. But she makes fun of less fortunate kids in an attempt to impress her peers so they’ll be her friend or continue to be her friend.”
In which context, I’d guess sometimes Mean Girl doesn’t actually want to be mean. Sometimes it’s about Mean Girl’s social circle, that she has to keep up appearances, even though he really doesn’t want to be cruel. Sometimes, I’d imagine, Mean Girl’s meanness is all about environment. That she’s mean in certain social environments—school, the mall, church. Whereas, one-on-one, Mean Girl, in the weaker girl’s bedroom at the weaker girl’s house, might be quite social and normal. But she can’t let her circle of friends know she actually gets along with the weaker kid, so, when they’re back to those social circles, Mean Girl shifts back into Witch Mode. I thought this phenomena of the overly-aggressive girl was unique. “No,” Laurice says, “in fact, girls are often more apt to participate in bullying than boys. Girls are a lot more aggressive than boys. A great deal of it is environment, a great deal of it is hormonal.
“Some of the behavior is simply generational. Generations of women, in this family, who have not had any way to channel their aggression. Many of these women can hardly say, ‘please’ or ‘thank you.’ They are, in large measure, brittle and abrasive, hateful, hostile women, who raise , brittle and abrasive, hateful, hostile kids—Mean Girl.
“This behavior is all that has been modeled to them. When these girls get scared or end up on uncertain ground, they want to love and they want to be loved. But they really don’t know how to accomplish that and they’re afraid to admit there are things they don’t know. So, rather than reach out for help, rather than turn to someone, an adult, a minister, to help them figure out what to do with these emotions, they retreat to what’s familiar to them—Mean Girl. “Sometimes Mean Girl sees a weaker kid wearing a nice pair of shoes. Shoes Mean Girl really likes. But, Mean Girl can’t compliment her—she doesn’t know how. All Mean Girl can do is be mean. ‘Bet you think you’re cute in them stupid-looking shoes!’ Insulting the kid was not her intention, but this is all Mean Girl knows.”