'Queen Bee' guide to not feeling stung
As a high school student at the Maret School in the 1980s, Rosalind Wiseman was "sort of a snit," she admits. She wore pearls, played competitive tennis and hung around with girls she might now categorize as mean. "I was in a relationship with girls who were horrible to me much of the time," she says.
Today, Wiseman, 41, who lives in Mount Pleasant with her husband and two sons, 7 and 9, has devoted herself to counseling girls on, among other things, how to deal with people just like her former self. "That sequence of constantly being put down has had long-lasting effects on me," she says.
Wiseman has turned her own youthful follies, and the self-help moxie she learned earning a black belt in karate, into a cottage industry. She made a name for herself in 2002 with "Queen Bees & Wannabes," the bestseller that was the basis for the film "Mean Girls." (Some of the material for the book came from Wiseman's work teaching empowerment and life skills in schools such as Maret, Georgetown Day, Dunbar High and Suitland High, but she insists the book is not about any one school.)
These days she spends about half of her time advising school systems on a curriculum she developed, called Owning Up, which teaches students to "take responsibility - as perpetrators, bystanders and targets - for unethical behavior." She also writes a monthly advice column for Family Circle, answers a slew of questions by e-mail and on her Facebook page, can be seen on YouTube and on a multi-city speaking tour called Girl World, where she offers girls guidance on speaking up for themselves and their parents tips on managing the consequences.
Next up is a teen-related television show, now in development with the producers of "The Biggest Loser," a movie adaptation of "Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads" and a second young-adult novel now being written, as was the first, with input from real teens.
Wiseman has become something of an Oprah Winfrey for the teen set. Though she doesn't have a degree in psychology, she has a knack for delivering therapy-speak that appeals to a broad audience: She uses just enough sarcasm to appeal to teenagers and just enough gravitas to earn their parents' respect. As one mother-daughter pair said after Wiseman's recent Girl World speech outside Baltimore, "It was so us."
In a phone interview, Wiseman shared some insights about teen life in Washington and beyond. Here are edited excerpts:
What, if any, teen problems do you think are specific to D.C.?
Being very verbal and arguing a lot is an asset in Washington. But what parents have a hard time understanding is that if kids are good at this, that means that when they are about to get in trouble, they will be extraordinarily persuasive with you, too.
At what age should parents start becoming proactive about their children's social behavior?
As soon as your child is involved in social groups: 2, 3, 4. But it's important to not put your child in a box: This child is a queen bee, etc. It's not helpful. Also it means the person can't ever change. Kids don't like being put into boxes, and your kid can act in different ways in different situations.