Her name was Brooke, and she was mean, oh so mean, to the younger me. She hated me-and I hated her even more. Apparently that’s the only thing I did right in all of sixth grade.
Hating her, according to the research, was a great plan. Adaptive, even. It allowed me to create symmetry in my relationships and to project those qualities that I hated most in myself onto my trendily dressed, permed rival. (The research says nothing supportive about some of the ways I actively expressed that hatred, at least one of which ended with me in the principal’s office.) And there, apparently, is the answer to one of the questions of parenthood: If your kid says somebody hates her, tell her to respond in kind. A group of psychologists at UCLA (in a study reported in the New York Times ) compared students who returned a classmate’s hostility to those who turned the other cheek and found that “girls who returned classmates’ hostility scored significantly higher on peers’ and teachers’ ratings of social competence. They were more popular and widely admired. The boys who did the same scored highly on teachers’ ratings of classroom behavior.”
Cases of extreme bullying aside, researchers have found that the effects of these “antipathetic peer relationships” (a lovely scientific way of saying “mutual loathing”) are generally neither dramatic nor long-lasting and may even be good-after all, once you’ve plumbed the depths of evil in a sixth grader’s soul, there’s not much the backstabbing colleague in the next cubicle can teach you. This Nietzschian reasoning may be of small comfort to your preteen daughter, but at least you can give the advice that comes straight from the heart: Oh, baby, you just hate that [insert age-appropriate expletive here] right back.