Meanies

I have two new stories in this week’s Sunday Styles section of The New York Times, both of them on our darker moments: The first, The Playground Gets Even Tougher, looks at the trickling down of mean-girl behavior from fifth grade into kindergarten and even preschool. As the mother of a young girl, I found the stories people relayed to be upsetting — but believable. And from the comments on the NYT website, it seems that while many people aren’t sure this is something exactly new, most agree that relational bullying is getting younger and more intense. Two points touched on in the story seemed to resonate in particular with readers: One, that parents, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes deliberately, can encourage mean-girl behavior. That is, in our highly competitive world, having a daughter be on top means helping her put other girls down. And the second point, that the media often abets mean-girl behavior through sassy, talk-back and back-biting female characters on programs watched by girls as young as four years old. (And good luck to those girls with older female siblings!)

The second story, a bit more lighthearted, explores whether there’s any upside to gossip. The story, for my Studied column, asks Can Gossip Be Good for You? According to two new British studies, it may not be exactly beneficial but talking about other people in a positive way certainly doesn’t have the negative impact that badmouthing others does. At the same time, research indicates that one’s sense of social support is bolstered by gossiping, whether it’s mean-spirited or harmless. Though perhaps people just think others like them more when they’re catty.

I think I’ll write about something happy next…

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