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Regina George Is In Her Forties: When Child Bullies Become Adult Bullies

03/05/2014 08:22 EST | Updated 05/05/2014 05:59 EDT

There has been a lot of talk in the media about bullying among kids and teenagers today. It saddens and angers many of us when we read about yet another suicide of a promising young individual who didn't have the emotional tools to cope with the incessant bullies in his or her world. But what the media and, frankly, most of us seem to be glossing over, is that the Regina Georges in our midst don't magically shed their nastiness as they transition from one phase of life to another.

Mean girls (and boys) graduate high school, go on to college, get jobs, get married and have kids of their own. If Regina George never learned to stop her bullying ways, isn't it fair to say that she and her fellow, now adult, Plastics are still engaging in similar hurtful behaviour as adults?

Regina George and the Plastics may have only been characters in Tina Fey's critically acclaimed movie, Mean Girls. But the truth is, Regina George is indeed real, alive, and living in our midst.

She's your neighbour who screams at you when your dog goes anywhere near her front lawn during your morning walk. She's your coworker who won't lend you a hand when you're swamped with work, because she thinks that your failure will make her look more successful in the boss' eyes. She's the acquaintance in your social circle with whom you may share common friends -- you know, the one who smiles and is polite with you one minute, and the next, spreads false rumors about you behind your back, or ices you out completely in an effort to turn everyone against you. She's the verbally or physically abusive spouse and parent whose reign of terror causes a lifetime of emotional damage to her victims' psyche. She's the Facebook cyber-"friend" who feels no remorse publicly disparaging you and others on her wall or other social media boards. She's the Internet troll who hides behind a fake name only to malign and mock with glee. Does any of this resonate? No doubt, we've all been faced with one form or another of the Reginas of the world.

Canada is now ranked ninth out of 35 countries for having the highest rate of bullying among 13-year-olds. What's more, one out of every three adolescents in the country have reportedly been victims of bullying. Adults don't fare any better, especially if they are users of the internet. Did you know that about 7 per cent of us in Canada have been the targets of cyber bullies? At a total population of 34.8-million Canadians, this means 2.4 million of us are, or have been at one time or another during our lives, victims of harassing behaviour!

Sobering indeed. How did we get to this point? Many young Regina Georges never got the psychotherapy or did the inner work they clearly needed in order to deal with their underlying issues, be it sadness, anger, or lack of self-worth and self-esteem. Instead, they have continued to outwardly express their inner turmoil in the only way they have always known: by bullying, abusing, alienating and disparaging others.

As they have aged, their tactics may have changed -- gotten more refined or subversive -- as they have honed their insidious abilities through many years of experience. Yes, Regina George is alive and thriving, and is now in her forties or fifties. And even sadder still, so are the Plastics. Sure, they may have aligned themselves to other Reginas over the years, but those same boy and girl Plastics have also grown up to become mean men and women in their own right.

Maybe not as outspoken as the Reginas, true; but they're still the betas to their leader's alpha dog. They are mean when they continue to stand idly by, watching the intimidation being done to their peers, while they remain silent witnesses. They are mean when they participate in negative conversations with Regina behind someone's back. They're inadvertently mean when they profess their innocence and ask the world to judge them only by their (in)actions, and not by those of their tyrannical friends and associates.

And herein lies the real problem in our society. When did it become socially acceptable to be complacent? To not stand up for innocent people when we've witnessed a wrongdoing? Why aren't we - and aren't we all Plastics, to some extent? -- calling out the Reginas in the moment that their behaviour is out of line?

I hear a lot of lackluster excuses among the adults in my circle when I've asked these important questions. These vary from "Oh, it's not my battle to fight," to "I prefer to stay above the drama" and "I try not to judge others." But aren't we inherently making a judgment when we silently observe the aggressor in action, rather than stand up with the oppressed? Don't we automatically become part of the battle when our inactions indirectly allow the mistreatment to happen in the first place, rather than promote a more loving, openhearted approach? Aren't we, as adults, supposed to be setting an example for the next generation? How can we fulfill that goal if we don't embody the universal truth that love is more powerful than hate?

As long as there are adult Plastics who continue to blindly follow the Reginas of the world, or who choose to turn the other cheek when adult mistreatment and victimization takes place, our children will continue to observe this dysfunctional pattern, and mimic this behaviour. Our children will be the future Plastics of the world because they will have learned such behaviour from their most important teachers in life: their parents.

So how do we get off this vicious cycle of child bullies growing up into adult tormentors? It's simple. The answer is, and always will be, love and compassion. What does that look like in a situation like this?

It means having the courage to kindly but assertively ask the Regina Georges of the world to stop their behaviour -- even, and especially when their actions are targeted toward someone else. It means not turning the other cheek or choosing to "stay above the drama" because you're not the victim in question. It means shedding our Plastics coat of armor, taking a good hard look inside ourselves, and pausing to reflect about what it is that we value about our friendships with the Reginas of the world. And most importantly, it means using this as a teachable moment.

Yes, we can teach old dogs new tricks. And alpha dog Regina George is no different. We can show her that living life with an open heart and mind is a lot more powerful and rewarding than one filled with anger, hate or jealousy. We can gently impart this wisdom to her by example of our own actions, and by modelling it in our own behaviour. And in the process, we will also be embodying this universal truth to the next generation.

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