Sassy or Really Mean?

Posted by on 16 September, 2014

“Mum, shush. Stop talking!”

If you think that sounds like a 14 year old girl with a bit too much sass, that’s spot on the money. I hear it often in my surgery and it makes me squirm. I am the doctor, not the moral police, not the parenting coach. What is my role there? Mum seems to either writhe around in embarrassment at her daughter’s outspokenness or doesn’t even seem to notice. But I sure do.

Let me say that I see a LOT of teenaged girls and I just love them. I know you all probably think I’m insane but I love their minds, their independence, their creativity, their fierce loyalty, their intelligence. When I see I have an afternoon of appointments with teenaged girls ahead I get so excited. Many of these girls I have known since they were kids and I have watched them grow into mature confident lovely young women. But I view sassiness very differently to many of their mothers. So instead of bailing up mum for not dealing with it or embarrassing their daughters, I thought I’d blog it out here!

Giving mum lip, especially in front of me isn’t just being a bit of a smart arse, it’s actually mean to mum. Meanness usually starts very young- often eight or nine. It can start with taking aim at a sibling, at other kids in the playground and of course at mum and dad. It takes the form of calling a sister fat or ugly, of telling their brother he can’t sing so to shut up. Or telling another kid she can’t play with their group at lunch time…..  or calling a teacher an ‘idiot’. At that young age meanness tends to be dismissed as the ‘frank’ talk of the young and despite being hurtful, isn’t shut down quickly enough.

Role around the teenaged years and we have a problem; A sense of entitlement to treat others badly and to disregard the feelings of their fellow human beings. Contrary to popular urban myth, being mean to others can actually be a sign of high self esteem- a little too high. A sense of self importance and a risk of inability to feel empathy. I really don’t mean to say every child or teen who says mean things is a mean and nasty person, but it’s a slippery slope. I don’t think it can be left unaddressed. So what to do? NIP IT IN THE BUD EARLY. They are never too young to hear “we don’t talk like that to anyone, especially your brother/ sister/ friends…” Don’t laugh off meanness as ‘out of the mouths of babes’. Tackle it head on and raise the family you will be proud of.