Can Peaceful Parenting End the ‘Mean Girls’ Epidemic?

Tiffany, her friend Zoe and I recently went to the UK to visit my mother in England. I had a speaking engagement in Scotland, so it was a great time to go on a trip and explore Europe. It was a marvelous adventure. We have never brought a friend with us before to see my mom, so to bring Tiff’s friend, was so much fun because we got to play tourist and show her around the many places we’ve seen visiting her there, over the last 20 years. England feels like a second home to me now and returning feels so beautiful with the connections and friendships that I’ve cultivated. Also, being in my Mom’s garden is my paradise! It’s the best place on Earth to do yoga.

While Tiffany and Zoe were with us in downtown Spalding, they were interested in meeting some new friends. Mainly boys. What teen girls wouldn’t be, especially when half of the boys walking around in this small British town looked like members of the band, One Direction. My mother and I enjoyed going in and out of shops, having coffee, talking and catching up. We kept an eye on the girls and repeatedly checked in with them through texts and passing smiles, as we walked to the town center where they were sitting, looking beautiful and happy and drawing quite a crowd of boys around them.

Near the end of the day, Tiffany found me in a shop and she came running up to me excited, jumping up and down. “I met the most awesome boy! I gave him my phone, and he put in his Snapchat”. Instead of exchanging phone numbers, teens give one another their iPhones to add their contact info on whichever social media they have open for them to do so. Snapchat seems to be the most popular.

A few days went by and Tiffany joyfully connected with can came to know more about this new boy in her life. She discovered he was from Romania and moved to England less than a year ago. He and his family are travelers. It’s a robust culture in many ways, and we’ve been learning so much about Romania since they connected. It’s a fascinating and beautiful culture. However, they deal with a great amount of prejudice, especially in England. Tiffany learned some Romanian and Cata learned more English while they texted and video chatted.

My parents decided to take us to the mall one day. I struggled with the fact that we could be out sightseeing and be exploring places that would enrich their lives being in a different country. However, the girls wanted to visit the mall so we went joyfully took off for a fun day of shopping together.

Cata and his friend Cosmin met the girls at the mall. I could tell my parents had trepidation. They were nervous where they didn’t know the boys, but where we would be in the same plaza, I convinced her that all would be fine and that we’d stay in touch and meet at a specific time. Plus, my Mom and I would have some much-needed one-on-one time, which, incidentally was very special and lovely. I bought new nightgowns and sexy, relaxing clothing to recover from my upcoming surgery. I was glad for our time, but in the back of my mind, I worried about where the girls were, as we hadn’t heard from them in a while. We began shifting gears to try to connect with them physically to figure out a time to head back to Spalding.

Both Tiffany and Zoe are Unschooled and parented peacefully. They have never been punished or parented in the authoritarian paradigm. They have never been in a physical fight, and although they both have sisters in which they have fought with, they’ve never experienced violence on the level that most of us dealt with growing up. Even with Zoe living in New York City, she had never dealt with what they were about to, in the small town of Peterborough, England, so far from home.

Little did we know, as we shopped for nighties and socks, that Tiffany and Zoe were dealing with something that neither of them have ever dealt with before. Our two American girls and the two Romanian boys were sitting on a bench in the mall, and there were a group of British girls staring at them from a few feet away. Tiffany glanced over occasionally, noticing the gang, but continued with focusing on her new love and the bliss and affection that the two were engaged in together.  Zoe and Cosmin became friends over the few days prior, so they were laughing connecting and enjoying one another’s company.

Suddenly, one of the girls, apparently the leader of this group, approached Tiffany and stood right in front of her face – nose to nose. She said, “You look like a slut.” Now, keep in mind that Tiff and Zoe have never been conditioned to please others. They have never dealt with the self-doubt, common insecurities and fears that many girls in our culture carry with them and that most of us grew up with. Tiffany looked at her without flinching and said, “Thanks! That’s exactly the look that I was going for!” She was joking, of course, and it took the girl completely off guard with her response. Tiffany turned back to Cata and smiled and ignored the girl who was trying to start a fight with her with continued comments that Tiff said, “Made no sense.”

Again, the girl got in her face and this time, tried something she thought would be even meaner. “Your eyebrows look like shit!” Tiffany is an aspiring model and makeup artist, so she knew the girl was just trash-talking. Tiff said to her, “No. They don’t. They are totally on- point.” The girl continued trying to set Tiffany off, but Cata and Cosmin finally stood between them.
“Please leave,” Cosmin said to the girls. The lead bully pushed Cata with her shoulder, knocking him back, but Cata stood his ground. “Leave the girls alone and go away!” he said to them.

Tiffany told me this story, and it is as accurate as I could convey according to her words, but what she said next brought tears to my eyes. She told me that she said to herself, “What would my Mom do in this situation?” She said that she knew that I would walk away. The girls relentlessly continued to try to instigate a fight with Tiff and Zoe making comments about their clothing being ugly and them looking, “slutty.” I was shaking, intently listening to the girls share about it all. I was so upset that these girls were trying to hurt them. My protective “mother-bear” instincts were highly triggered. However, I relaxed when I realized that something was very different about this altercation in new and compelling ways that proved the power of peaceful, partnership-based parenting.

Tiff and Zoe weren’t even phased by the put-downs or meanness thrust at them by this intimidating, gang of girls.I shared this story during my presentation in Scotland, just after it happened and it was one of the most potent examples of how living in a partnership-based paradigm results in children who are whole, confident and so very different than most children and teens today. I can say, from experience and my heart that parenting respectfully, rather than punitively, creates a unique invincibility in young people. They become quite impenetrable to the onslaught of insults from others. I was in complete awe of how the girls experienced all of this. It brings me to higher levels of confidence and awareness that living this life creates strong, powerful whole human beings.

Tiffany and her friends were finally able to get away from this interrogation and impending violence. They walked away, but a few minutes later, the girls found them again and walked towards them. “Hey sluts!” the leader said to Tiff and Zoe. She tried to trip Tiffany, but Tiff stepped aside, just in time to avoid her foot and just kept walking. The boys handled themselves with grace and admitted later how desperately they wanted to hurt those girls back for their cruelty. They shared that in their culture, that would have never ended up peacefully. However, Tiff and Zoe modeled something that they have never witnessed before. The boys followed their lead with peaceful and confident energy. They all stayed calm and didn’t let it shake the joy connection and memories that they were all creating together as new-found lovers and friends. The girl’s peace spread and inspired and this in itself, is a profound statement for the power of self-love, inner peace and being raised without authoritarian control. It keeps the spirits of young people whole, empathetic and energetically strong.

When I was in school, and someone went toe to toe with me, it was f@cking on! If I was challenged, I didn’t back down. I didn’t feel as though I had a choice. I would fight or risk being a future target. The reason for the fight didn’t matter. The size of the person didn’t matter. If I were in that same situation back at Tiff’s age, there would be blood, and it wouldn’t only have been mine. The inner beasts of pain inside teens that are controlled, living injustice and dealing with abuse are unleashed in such situations. The angst that children carry for the disrespect, control and assumption of harmful intent that they receive is unprecedented. The time has come to reexamine our past and why we continue to treat children as subservient and abuse them in the name of “discipline.” Everything we have believed in this regard is wrong. 

In later examining and speaking about why I’ve come to realize that the mean put-downs would have deeply hurt me at Tiff’s age because I would have believed the girl’s words about me. I would have doubted myself. I would have wondered if I was a “slut.” I would have stared at my eyebrows for hours in a mirror thinking that they did, in fact, look terrible and ugly. I would have thrown my clothing away crying on my floor, wondering what I should do or wear or become to finally not be treated meanly to live in peace. That same experience, that my daughter handled so beautifully and easily would have hurt my soul so deeply. Being raised as a people-pleaser, as most of us were in the authoritarian paradigm, you learn to emotionally split between who we are and who to become, in order to stay safe. We lived multiple personalities for survival and it completely warped our humanness.

If I were Tiff in that situation at her age, I would have been triggered and engaged in a fight, instantly, as my honor, reputation, and self-worth would have been on the edge of it all. The consequences of backing down would have been profoundly dangerous in me becoming a target for future bullies. The repercussions for me not fighting would have been a risk. Me fighting would have been a risk, also. I would have had freedoms removed. I may have never been allowed in the mall again. I may have been grounded, or suspended from school.  In the depths of the intense self-doubt, self-hatred, and insecurity that I carried as armor throughout my younger years there would have never been a choice to fight or not fight. Both choices would have risks. I always chose to fight as a young person. I hurt many people in my younger years, in the name of protecting myself. I took karate for 3 years and most people who started fights with me didn’t know that I knew how to fight and immobilize them. I never started a fight, but I never lost one, either.

Tiffany and Zoe didn’t deal with any of these issues. When telling the story, they shared that it was hilarious that strangers would want to fight and be mean to people they didn’t even know. Our girls did nothing to initiate this or give any reason why it could ever be justified. They were just pretty, confident young ladies, happy and alive. That alone is a real threat to others who are living as I did, in deep shame, insecurity, and self-hatred. For hurting young people, taking confident girls down a peg is an illusion of control. In their minds, they somehow feel “better than” in doing so, which is profoundly troubling. The angst inside them from being controlled and mistreated at home and school needed to be released somehow that day. Unfortunately, Tiff and Zoe wouldn’t allow the “mean girls” pain to be released upon them.  The girls were whole enough to not let it happen and would not step into it that dysfunctional dynamic. It simply didn’t make sense to them.

Tiffany and Zoe said that they knew the girls were jealous of them and hurt. That in itself is the most liberating thing that I have ever heard a teen speak to me. It wasn’t a snarky, egotistical way of communicating it either. It was pure, mature and loving *compassion* for these girls who wanted to fight them. Tiff said she knew she looked cute and her outfit was pretty and in style and that her eyebrows looked perfect.  She said she loved her shirt and Zoe loved her outfit also. They took time, effort and pride in picking out the best look and makeup to have a fun day at a British mall with these new and exciting Romanian boys that they met there.

As the girls walked away from Tiff and Zoe, one of the girls screamed out for Zoe to pull her shorts down lower, because they were so short that she looked, “like a slut.” Zoe never looked back, and instead, hiked them up as high as she could, to prove a point. You can criticize and challenge. You can put down and harass these Unschooled, free, peaceful and whole teens all that you want. However, they will not engage with anything but truth and integrity, as they know the truth about who they are. They always have the choice to participate, walk away, or speak with confidence.

We are freeing our children living in peace and partnership. We are keeping them safe in many new ways, by being brave and forward-thinking enough to live this evolution in parenting.  With every unique experience and every new challenge, my children show me that living this way promotes peace, love, compassion, and kindness.

To have someone step into your face, nose to nose, wanting to hurt you physically and to be clear and balanced enough to realize that it wasn’t about you and that it is about them, is beyond comprehension for a teen in this day and age. It is a great hope of mine for the future that more parents learn about how letting go of the punitive dynamic in parenting keeps their children and teens so much safer and more compassionate. There is a new and exciting era beginning! It is pure and potent proof that love, kindness, freedom, and peace are the only way towards what we all want and peaceful parenting is an enormous part of this collective dream.

This experience empowered the girl’s in incredible ways. They were excited to have lived the power and excitement of it all, which utterly floored me! That night, Tiff said to me, “Mom! It was just like in the movies! I couldn’t believe it was all happening! Those girls were acting crazy, mean and jealous, but I know it was because they probably had bad lives, themselves. I bet they were abused at home. I knew it had nothing to do with us. I felt bad for them, even though they were all bitches to me.”

For her to be bright enough to come from a place of holding such a focused, empathetic understanding of others pain was such an evolved perspective. It was an intense experience, for sure, but they handled themselves with confidence and utter grace, peacefully avoiding any physical or verbal altercation. Their heads were held high in pure self-love and understanding for the way that most teens today are forced to live. These “mean girls” wanted a fight. They wanted to release their pain and aggression that they undoubtedly deal with in their own lives when they should be receiving love and support.

These “mean girls” may someday change, as many of us have, to step into this reality about life, peace, love, and freedom. When others can see that it is such an unfair existence that most teens live today, they may be able to be treated like our children are, and more peace and change could come. Those “mean girls” wanted to ease their pain, by hurting the girls that day, but they were not able to do this with Tiffany and Zoe as their spirits are intact and they were impenetrable. They were full of truth, confidence and awareness and most of all; they were encircled with love, both physically and energetically from us parents and those who show them their worth and beauty every day of their lives.

We learned a great deal that day at that simple mall in Peterborough, England. The most important lesson of which was, The paradigm of authoritarian parenting continues to breed “mean girls.” Compassion can only be cultivated in children when parenting with a partnership-based model. “Mean Girls” cannot fight other girls who are holding hands, instead of fists. 



Dayna Martin is an author and speaker who is known as, the UnNanny. She has dedicated her life to educating others through her writing, television appearances and speaking on the topic of facilitating educational freedom for children. Dayna is the most renown voice on the subject of Radical Unschooling and peaceful parenting, worldwide. She educates and empowers people to become self-directed educational facilitators and their children’s partners in life. She inspires parents and educators to let go of learning limits and instead, give freedom for internally motivated learning, peace and freedom to flourish.


  1. Ah what a story! Yay to see proof that you did well, eh? 🙂

  2. Love your blog! I have enjoyed reading about how Tiff handled her difficult life situations lately- referring to not only this, but also when her friend ran away. She seems to be using these experiences to “level up” and not be upset about the mean girls behavior, rather just showing compassion. Go Tiff! I hope she knows that she’s handling these things better than a lot of adults

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