Social Drama at Recess: A View From the Inside

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Girls whispering to each other on the recess playground.Once upon a time, my kids ran around and played with other kids, boys or girls or anyone, and didn’t stop much unless someone grabbed a toy from them or used their hands instead of their words. Then an adult might need to intervene momentarily, and they’d be running back onto the playground together in no time. Then my daughter, now in third grade, started getting a little older. Suddenly I hear a lot about who has a crush on whom, which girls are popular, and how much time is spent gossiping and discussing with whom to be friends.

I felt wholly unprepared to navigate this new stage of girlhood, and thought other moms might also feel utterly clueless about what really happens when we’re not around. Here I interview my daughter about the goings on at recess. Prior to this interview, my daughter and I agreed on total honesty (from her) and a judgment-free zone (from me). I then wrote down exactly what she said, only omitting her incessant use of the word ‘like.’

1. What do you and your friends do at recess?

Sometimes girls are being mean to us so sometimes we would either be mean back or try to get other people to know that this person is being unkind. Or sometimes we gossip about other people. Or we might talk about other people being unfair or the teachers being unfair.

2. Do boys and girls play together?

No. Well, sometimes. But not usually.

3. What do the boys do at recess?

The boys, most of them play football on the basketball court. Some of them play tag with some of the girls. And I don’t know what the other boys play.

4. When did recess shift from kids just playing together and running around to gossiping and social drama?

In second grade, we would gossip about one girl and her “friends,” or the boys would chase the girls, but most boys just played football and the girls played family or tag or something. But this year, in third grade, the same girl has gotten a group of girls to be on her side and made recess all about them against the other girls.

5. Is anyone unkind to each other?

Yes. Only the girls, really.

6. What does it look like when they’re unkind?

I think it’s kind of kindergarten stuff: calling people names, telling the teachers on each other, lying to the teachers about what some girls did or said. There’s arguing about who did what. They might say, “You didn’t include me when blah blah blah,” and then the other girl will say that she did. Girls will say, “Guess what? So and so did this crazy or sassy thing at recess,” or they’ll call people “dummy” or tell someone to “shut up.”

Mostly the mean girls are lying about it, saying that they didn’t do that when they did. A lot of the girls are being selfish, like when we’re trading fidgets. Their feelings get hurt if one girl said she would trade with them but then they decide to trade with someone else. Some of the mean girls are telling other girls that “so and so will do this to you if you’re friends with her” just because they don’t like that person.

7. Has anyone ever cried at recess because of girls being unkind to them?

Not really. Some people have gotten really mad, and kind of talk like they’re crying, but they’re not totally crying. One of my friends who sometimes has, like, an attitude, gets really upset and yells. But most of my friends walk away if we don’t want to be around someone.

8. Does anyone ever stick up for the person who some girls are being mean to?

No because the person who’s being mean is normally mean to, like, everyone, not just one person. Me and my friends from my class normally want to get into it for the drama, even though we’re not really involved, but we don’t really like the mean girl. But our other friends, these three other girls, who are like the “popular girls,” are the ones who the mean girl is mainly being mean to. But they mostly know how to deal with her so we don’t really have to stick up for them.

9. Does anyone ever get the teachers involved?

Yeah, a lot of people tattletale, even my friends and I. We tell on the girl who’s unkind and then she would tell on us, and then we tell the teacher that what she said isn’t true. And then it goes back and forth.

10. What do the teachers say?

The teachers don’t really help. They say, “Oh, maybe next time she’ll have to sit on the wall.” But then she never does. I guess since nobody is hurting each other, like, physically, that’s why they don’t really help.

11. Is there anything else you think we should add to this that people might be interested in?

In my opinion, I think that this unkind girl we’re dealing with is not really going to stop in any of the grades as long as she has other people following her, like her “friends,” then I don’t really think she’s going to stop this. Each year she’s pretty much gotten more, like, sassy, I would say.

And there you have it. Of course, this makes none of it better, but being a little more “in the know” always puts my mind at ease (I think. Slightly.)

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