girl power

childhood

If only childhood and girlhood was as simple and idyllic as the photo above depicts.

A friend of mine and I were speaking yesterday of a pint sized terrorist in one of her daughters’ classes at school.  This is a kid, who as an elementary school student decides that when she wants her friends to come over, she (as in the child) is the one who emails and texts the other child’s parents. As in she decides and initiates without going to her parents and saying “mom can Annabelle come over and play?”  And no matter how often the parents are asked to be the ones to connect since it could be considered wildly inappropriate for an adult to make plans with a 10 or 11 year old they aren’t related to…it never happens.

This child is also a bit of a bully.  When she goes to birthday parties of other children, the parties become about her and not the birthday kid of honor. This kid has this drive to be leader of the pack, but not in a positive way.

But this is mild compared to often what other kids experience.  People often immediately think of boys when it comes to younger and middle school age bullying, but the girls are often worse.

A woman in a parenting group posted about the heartbreaking situation her daughter is in.  The girl is either 10 or 11 and finally in a pool of tears broke down to her mother to tell her what was going on in school. This girl is being teased, bullied, ignored, and ostracized all at one time.  She tries to eat with other kids her age and play at recess and they tease her, laugh at her, whisper about her right in front of her.  She is so tormented by some of these kids that for months she has not only been eating all by herself, but she takes recess in the library. Why? Because in the library she can escape into a book to get away from these kids.

The worst part of this is the teacher knows there is a problem and has been aware there is a problem for a very long time.

Someone wisely said to her  “with girls at this age, the Queen Bee mob mentality is really difficult. I hope the situation improves. As a parent, it is heartbreaking.”

I agree. It is.  As parents we want to protect our kids and slay their dragons, but it’s so darn hard when the dragons are part of their peer group, isn’t it?

This mother is going to the school and going to the guidance counselor. I think she should add principal to the mix and if that doesn’t work, the school board.

Bullying in all forms is in my opinion even more pervasive than it was when we were all growing up.  A lot of that has to do with social media and the political correctness police. No one wants to upset the little bullies and their parents. And then there is the age-old dilemma of the parents of the little bullies are often bullies themselves and/or  might write lovely supportive checks to the school and so on.

But where do we draw the line? All schools have some form of anti-bullying policies for cyber issues and real time, but getting them to keep policies updated and to even act on them often takes almost an act of Congress doesn’t it?

This particular child being bullied is outgoing and pleasant by nature. It’s like some mean girls are jealous and want to break her spirit because of it, but when you are that age, it just hurts.  There is no adult capability of looking at the situation and assessing it for what it is.  That is our job.

But the thing about bullying in our schools today, sometimes the only solution is to switch schools. And is that fair to the child? Sometimes the only alternative is to give your child a fresh start and they deserve as much, don’t they?

The reality is a lot of schools do not hold children who bully or their parents accountable for anything. They are afraid to a lot of the time and they also don’t really look at why the kid is bullying.  I have noticed that a lot of the kids who bully might very well just be acting out because of whatever is going on in their homes. Schools talk a good game, they all have a purported “policy” in place, but when push comes to shove not much happens.

If changing schools ends up being a viable alternative I don’t think any of us should discourage a parent from seeking what is best for their child in their home. However, not everyone has that luxury, so why shouldn’t we as parents do whatever we have to do to encourage our schools, to demand our schools do better? After all whether private, parochial, charter, or public we are paying for our kids’ education.

Now people will argue against moving a kid to a different school. They will say without learning appropriate assertiveness skills, these problems are likely to follow from one school to the next. BUT these are kids and well they often have to grow up too quickly as it is, so if we are teaching them the emotional equivalent of defensive driving at a young age, what are we doing to the magic of childhood?

And on a personal level, the mean girls I encountered between grades six and eight generally speaking grew up to be quite miserable adult women. I actually feel sorry for them now,  but as an adult it’s a lot easier ignoring them isn’t it?

Sixth grade was a pivotal year for me. It was the first time I experienced mean girls. It  was the year that the meanest of the mean girls in my class at a private day school decided to take a shine to me and among other things chipped my front tooth (the tooth is still chipped today).

My mother went down on that school like a Valkyrie. I remember that in and of itself gave me some empowerment feeling as a girl – that someone would care enough about me to go to bat for me like that. The school took it all seriously to a point and I was able to get through the rest of the year intact. But I never, ever forgot it.

The summer between sixth and seventh grades my parents moved us from the city to suburbia.  To the Main Line and the purportedly fabulous Lower Merion School District. Seventh through ninth grades were varying degrees of hell for any girl who wasn’t a cookie cutter image of certain cliques of girls. It was the emotional equivalent of the wild, wild west. I for the most part kept my head down and my mouth shut.

I found a core group of friends, many of whom I am still connected to today. I internalized a lot of what I probably should have told my parents in retrospect. But fortunately for me, my parents decided to move my sister and I to private school.

Private school had it’s own squadron of mean girls and bullies. They were just more well spoken and better pedigreed in some cases.  But for the most part they left me alone. And in high school you have a few more coping skills if you are lucky.  I didn’t have enough apparent weaknesses for the high school mean girls to practice their perverse social Darwinism on me. But others were not so fortunate. We had girls with varying eating disorders and other issues, and even an attempted suicide.  And in those days there wasn’t any counseling for heavy issues like attempted suicide, it just was.

Some people I went to high school with were left with such a bad taste in their mouths that as 50 years old  they still don’t attend any reunion activities ever. They refuse. Part of the reason I got involved with high school reunions was to give those who often did not feel included in those days a place to feel included today and recognized for the cool men and  women they became. Bullying can leave a mark for decades and a lot of people do not realize that.

The thing that always amuses me about mean girls and bullies is how they translate into adulthood. I look at a lot of them with pity and sadness because where the rest of us have grown, a lot of them are still adult versions of the tween and teen mean girls/bullies that they were. And their behavior patterns are often just adult versions of what they were when they were growing up.  Some of them have clawed their way into marriages to wealthy men that gave them stature and plenty of expendable income and stuff, but when you see them they don’t look happy; they don’t act happy. I think that is sad. And then there are the ones whose own children are more ill behaved than they were, or even more sadly, become police headlines in local newspapers. That is a particularly cruel form of Karma.

But the nice thing about being a grown up is when you see these mean girl and bully people again as adults you realize how sad they are and you turn and walk away feeling blessed for who you are and for not being like them then, now, or ever. That is a very powerful feeling. When I finally realized how much luckier and better off I was then a lot of them on so many levels, it was very freeing. In retrospect, I wish I had had the emotional maturity to grasp that years earlier than I did.

We are responsible for the future of our children and life is a balancing act.  We want to teach our kids to stand on their own two feet and stick up for themselves but we also want for them to be happy.  For girls teen and tween years can be extraordinarily difficult, boys too. And while we are trying to instill the best ethics and values and standards into our children as much as humanly possible we have to let them grow on their own.

But I am sorry, kids that are mean and destructive need to be held accountable, and their parents as well. No one wants to punish or reprimand a child, it is simply not fun on any level. But we are the adults and we have to teach the difference between right and wrong.

And as to the teaching, that is where our schools come in.  They need to be active partners in this. They need to teach kids bullying is wrong and how to be kind. They can’t just do lip service with half-assed anti-bullying policies.

Here are some great ideas I read from a stay at home mom who also happens to be a therapist:

1) make sure she knows it’s not her fault and it’s common. It can happen to anyone. (There’s a website called “It Gets Better” (I believe) where celebrities & regular successful adults talk about being bullied in the past. ) I also think it’s important she knows that it will come to an end and that she has many great experiences to look forward to. (My parents used to say – “These are the best years of your life” about high school – well intentioned but not helpful, also not true in my case.

2) tell the guidance counselor (or someone at the school she trusts and that you trust to keep an eye on it). If she’s seemed fine to you, it’s likely none of the adults at school can even see it.

3) try to help her find somewhere she can go at lunch. (Perhaps with a teacher or volunteering to help a teacher or something (and I would add that both you and she should be proud that she was resourceful enough to think of going to the library).

4) see if she wants to talk to a therapist. Therapy can be really helpful. A lot of smart, sensitive, introspective kids are afraid to talk to their parents about these issues because they don’t want their parents to be sad.

5) Maybe have her start a new activity separate from school (a clean slate if you will) where she can meet some new people and get some evidence that she is, in fact, likeable worthy of friendship.

 

If we as parents take consistent stands against bullying behavior in as positive a way as possible I think we can make a difference. Also, when you are dealing with bullying and mean girls don’t assume that the parents of these kids will be your ally here or even behave in an adult manner.  Often they are part of the problem.

Please pay it forward and encourage anti-bullying campaigns and programs and policies no matter where your kids are in school. Check out Signe Whitson and others.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

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2 thoughts on “girl power

  1. This was a FANTASTIC post, Carla. And I love that you included those suggestions at the end. You and I shared the common experience of the mean girls from junior high. Bullying extends into adulthood in other ways too, in workplaces, and other social situations. It is damaging no matter how old you are, and even when you can see what’s going on, it’s still difficult to have to deal with it. It’s too bad we can’t teach people to change their behavior more easily, but I have never known a bully who was a happy and mentally healthy person. We don’t pay nearly enough attention to mental health or giving kids adequate attention, healthy role models for behavior, or feedback for learning. And many people in positions of authority in the workplace seem to have gotten there as a result of their bullying behavior so they are unlikely to change things. It takes a lot of strong voices to fight bullying…

  2. This is an amazing post…wish every school principal would read it! We are past school years now but we had issues with school administrators who buried problems by making the parents asking questions feel like they were the ONLY ones to have a problem with the particular issue…so even parents were pushed to the edges and make to feel like outcasts! Usually the bullying child has equally obnoxious parents who feel little Janie is perfect in every way….and school staff cave to the bratty parent and expect the bullied parents to just fade away. LOVE your friend’s tips…they are spot on. Our daughter had a teacher she connected with- i knew that teacher had her back and would share with me anything she felt i absolutely needed to know—and gave our daughter someone to confide in- a safe haven of sorts. I am grateful to the teacher to this day.

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