Meet Teen Expert Rosalind Wiseman
author, Queen Bees and Wannabes
interview by Lindsey Turnbull
You may best know Rosalind Wiseman because her book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, influenced the movie Mean Girls, one of our favorite movies ever. Wiseman helped change the way adults viewed teen girls and their relationships- with their parents, with other girls, and with boys. Best of all, she did it with the help of dozens and dozens of teen girls from all walks of life.
We’re bringing this interview back from the archive because 1. it’s great and 2. it’s bullying prevention month, and Wiseman knows all about Mean Girls and bullies. Grab your mom, dad, guardian, and sit down and read this interview together!
Please introduce yourself.
I’m Rosalind Wiseman, I’m an author, educator, social activist, parenting expert and author of the new, 3rd edition Queen Bees and Wannabes.
Why did you decide to update the book after 10 years?
Because it feels like the book, especially with social media, gets out of date really quickly. I did a second edition in 2009 and I felt it wasn’t as good as it needed to be for the people who need it. I collected another group of teen editors and we went through the whole thing and they told me what I needed to change again.
What was most unexpected thing you discovered in your research for this edition?
A couple of things, one that felt like issue that’s been around forever, but I found young people talked about it more: parents comparing their children to other people’s children via what they see on social media. Bragging about their child becoming class president, or getting an A, or winning a championship. I got a lot of feedback from teenagers about how parents seem to have increased the constant comparisons. It really doesn’t work, it’s not motivating to be compared to someone constantly.
The second thing that my opinion changed on and got a lot more complex on is taking pictures of yourself, sexually, and sending them to people. I have a more nuanced, multi-faceted way of looking at it than I did six years ago.
How did your opinion change? I know sexting is a huge concern among parents and schools.
The problem is, and doing this work as long as I have, I fell into same trap that a lot of people do- of seeing girls as insecure and promiscuous, and promiscuous because they’re insecure, and/or naïve and foolish. Thinking the only reason a girl would send those pictures is because someone tricked them. It’s a lot more complex. When you work with girls you have to respect where they are and what they’re thinking about. They’ve grown up in a visual medium- they express themselves visually. I have gotten to the point where I feel if girls are sexting/taking pictures, it’s not necessarily bad. We have to be careful about pathologizing girls’ sexuality. I think we get close and often do that with girls.
Boys are taking these images too- of their six packs, and genitals. We don’t know as much about it because it doesn’t become as public. We have a false sense that girls are the only ones who do this and they’re just insecure and naïve.
I have talked to girls who are smart, come from good families, have good parents, are confident, get good grades, amazing women- who have taken sexy or bra pictures of themselves and sent it to someone. I think we need to be careful of how we talk about this.
I like that you appreciate the nuance.
I don’t know, some women are mystified. This is a serious problem, and it gets me really riled up when a school age girl sends a picture of herself and the other mothers- it’s usually moms- turn on the girl. As if they’ve never “made a mistake.” The lack of compassion for those girls when it becomes public knowledge, I’ve been aggravated by the ways parents turn on girls. Where is the compassion and kindness and empathy?
What is one thing you want teen girls to know, generally, about their parents?
In general, I think most parents, even if they do things that are counterproductive, like freak out, the motivation behind it is usually reasonable. It doesn’t take away from the frustrating behavior, but the motivation is usually sound. Some parents are miserable- I don’t want to take away that reality. I want to emphasize that girls can try and have some compassion or patience. We as parents has had to deal with a learning curve around these issues and nurturing teenagers in an environment that no one has ever had to do- raising kids with this technology. It really is hard, but please try and have patience.
Sometimes I have to tell girls they have to be more mature than the adults around them. It sucks, I and I totally feel for them. The reality is if you want to get what you want, you really have to act maturely.
Resources start to dry up in the teen years- it’s much easier to find resources for younger children and young adults. You choose to work with teens- why do you love working with them?
It’s true, especially in the middle school years. It shocks me that people don’t ask kids what they want, we just tell them what we think they should hear. It is literally astounding that we don’t do market research.
I think people don’t like working with this age range. I think teens are creative and if you ask them what they think they’ll tell you. They love being part of something that makes the world a better place. They love being able to contribute to something that will truly make a difference, they are on board. It’s never difficult for me to get teens to help me with a project. People were surprised when I wrote the boys book. If they know you’re legit, they’ll tell you.
I say similar things about the work I do with teen girls, especially middle school girls! I think people find that surprising.
I do get annoyed and annoyed for them! Especially when I see kids who aren’t thinking critically, who are attached to their phones, who demeans herself and others. Is that aggravating? Yes.
If you were going to update the movie Mean Girls for 2016, how would you change it?
There’d be no 3 way phone calls. That’s an easy one. It’d all be on Instagram and Snapchat. People would find out about the party through social media. There’d be a lot of curating. Regina George would have a perfectly curated Instagram account, she’d be super competitive about how many people are on her account. That’s the popularity barometer.
What advice would you give to teen girls who are struggling to talk to their parents/guardians?
I would talk during a calm part of the evening or during the day. I don’t think parents should trap your kids in the car and interrogate them there. Kids will say “I’m fine, don’t worry about it.”
I’d say think about the calmest part of your parents’ day. I would say “Mom/Dad, I really want to talk about something important,” If you can say this, add “but I just want to get it off my chest. I might want your advice, but I will ask for it, but first I want to just talk.” Tell them thank you for listening. That is super mature.
If you’re angry- here’s where maturity comes in-the more stereotypically you act, as a moody teenage girl, the more likely they are to dismiss the content of your words- slamming doors and screaming and crying and saying “I hate you,”…it might be legit. You have every right to those feelings, but if you want to get something accomplished, you have to suck it up.
Do you have an embarrassing teen story?
Oh gosh, sure! In 3rd grade, I went through a phase of crazy lying and exaggerating. Like, crazy things would come out of my mouth that clearly were not true. I wanted to impress my girlfriends. The big thing in 9th grade, I spread untrue gossip about one of my best friends. She went away with me for the summer. There were older boys there from another family. She is extremely shy and private. I lied and told people she hooked up with an older guy when she did not. It was awful. It embarrassed her and hurt her feelings.
It was a painful thing that I did. I was really super jealous of her. I didn’t know how to process it and didn’t know what to do with my feelings. It took me a while to apologize- maybe months later.
Do you have any last words?
Girls read the book, they can write me and tell me what I need to do better. I am always open to criticism. Tell me what I need to do to be better!
Rosalind Wiseman has had only one job since graduating from college—to help communities shift the way we think about children and teens’ emotional and physical wellbeing. As a teacher, thought leader, author, and media spokesperson on bullying, ethical leadership, the use of social media, and media literacy, she is in constant dialogue and collaboration with educators, parents, children, and teens.
Rosalind is the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World—the groundbreaking, best-selling book that was the basis for the movie Mean Girls. Her latest book, Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World was published in September 2013. In addition, she wrote a free companion e-book for high school boys, entitled The Guide: Managing Douchebags, Recruiting Wingmen, and Attracting Who You Want and a school edition entitled, The Guide: Managing Jerks, Recruiting Wingmen, and Attracting Who You Want. From culturesofdignity.com.
Interview originally posted in 2016 on MissHeardMagazine.com.