During our Fall I Cycle, I had the opportunity to lead a few sessions of Work It Out for girls ages 9-11 and 12-14. It’s always interesting to see how the same activity plays out with different groups of girls; sometimes one group will react totally different than another group of girls relatively the same age. And occasionally, several groups of girls will react the same way. For instance, when I conducted an activity called, “Step to the Line” (where the facilitator reads a series of statements, and the girls “step to the line” if it applies to them), nearly every girl in three different programs moved forward when I said, “Step to the line if you had never thought about the way your actions affect other people.”

This really got me thinking. In our society, we hear a lot about “mean girls” and how cruel children can be to each other. However, is it possible that some of this “mean” behavior can be explained by the fact that these are children, after all, and developmentally, they aren’t used to thinking about people other than themselves? Even if a girl recognizes that it hurts her feelings when someone leaves her out, she may not think about how much she hurts someone else when she leaves that person out.

During Summer Camp this year, I was talking to an 11-year-old girl who was in my office crying. She’d been having trouble fitting in and felt like the other girls were being mean to her. However, she admitted it was true that when they asked her to play a game with them, she’d said no. I asked her how she thought it made them feel when she angrily said no to them, when they were reaching out and trying to include her. She got a genuine look of shock on her face, saying, “I didn’t really think about that before. I guess it probably hurt their feelings.”

Thus, a key part of Work It Out involves trying to help girls recognize the impact they have on their friends and their peers, whether positive or negative. We want to help girls realize they can truly hurt someone by spreading vicious rumors that may or may not be true. Conversely, they can make someone’s day by simply inviting them to eat lunch at their table! It’s all a matter of thinking of the consequences of your actions before you act.