Just watching Mean Girls. Whoa! The drama! Do your middle or high school kids come home talking about drama? Is all drama equal?…or is it code for “bullying.”

Researcher Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick sets us straight in this week’s New York Time’s blog Bullying as Drama:

Jamey recognized that he was being bullied and asked explicitly for help, but this is not always the case. Many teenagers who are bullied can’t emotionally afford to identify as victims, and young people who bully others rarely see themselves as perpetrators. For a teenager to recognize herself or himself in the adult language of bullying carries social and psychological costs. It requires acknowledging oneself as either powerless or abusive.

In our research over a number of years, we have interviewed and observed teenagers across the United States. Given the public interest in cyberbullying, we asked young people about it, only to be continually rebuffed. Teenagers repeatedly told us that bullying was something that happened only in elementary or middle school. “There’s no bullying at this school” was a regular refrain.”

Older kids tend to think bullying is “kid stuff.” In high school it’s called “drama.”

If we don’t understand how kids explain what’s happening in their lives, then we can’t ask the right questions or be there for them in the right ways.

When kids talk about “drama,” check out their body language, ask questions and whether they call it “bullying” or not, if it’s mean drama, there’s a good chance there’s pain behind it. It’s not that we should be “in their business,” but cancel that…we should be in their business, especially when we can remind them that they’re valued.

And as I’ve always said to my kids, “Save the drama for your mama.” (And if you’re thinking, that makes no sense, you may be right. I just said it to make them laugh.)