Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Cure for the Mean Girl Syndrome

Just recently, my oldest daughter began to experience the harsh reality of bullying or what I like to deem, the case of the “mean girl syndrome”. An allusion to the Tina Fey’s classic comedy, “Mean Girls”, the movie depicted (stereotypically, nonetheless) the institution of bullying. Of course, like most cinematic tales of this nature, the antagonist is always brought down by the heroic protagonist, who transitions after overcoming their tragic flaw or in other words, realizing that being true to self is much more important then “fitting in”. However, in reality the protagonist does not always win. We see in the news where children commit suicide or in some cases homicide to deal with bullying. Essentially, parents need to be more active in the social emotional development of their children. Bullying is real and it became real to me when my daughter brought home a “case of the mean girl syndrome”.
Well, the tale started in Ms. Flanagan’s second grade classroom. My daughter is a very driven child. An intrinsic learner who can be found buried in a book or writing in her journal for entertainment. She values her good reputation and seeks out positive responses purposefully, so it didn’t come to a surprise when she came home complaining about the girls in her class calling her a “teacher’s pet”. She did not show significant signs of dismay so I did not question it further. It was not until I noticed her attitude towards her younger sisters. She became unusually disrespectful to them and exhibited bully type behavior. She would force them to give up items on command and name-calling became routine when she did not get her way.  I questioned her about her friendships at school and she was very cautious about what she shared. She knew I loved to hear about her academic experiences so she would change the subject to embellish those aspects of her day. Reluctantly, I let go and made and effort to combat her “new behavior”.

Then something happened. She started throwing tantrums about riding the school bus. It was a wake up call for me and I decided to address her more firmly. She couldn’t resist my interrogation and “spilled the beans”. She told me about how one girl kicked her on her leg so hard it cut her skin and how on another day their ridicule almost made her cry. I was heartbroken and admittedly wanted to rush to the school and file a report. Instead, I decided to have “the talk”.
I never imagined I would have to discuss the woes of friendships with my seven-year old. Perhaps, age ten was more what I was prepared for, but not seven. I explained to my seven year old that people could be mean for several reasons and to never take it personally. We are humans with good and bad days; however I ensured her that allowing people to mistreat her was never going to be OK. I also encouraged her to talk to an adult when people around her made her feel unimportant or unloved. She seemed to find comfort in my words, leaving me satisfied.
Essentially, I knew I was responsible for her social development and although, I wasn’t able to change the “mean girls” in her school, I was able to change the way she viewed them as human beings, thus enabling her to find alternative ways of dealing with them.  She was being mistreated so she mistreated her sisters as a way to deal with her own victimization, but with my help she was able to realize that and I was able to realize that I needed to be a more active participant in her social development.
Every bully does not have to be brought down through social embarrassment as Lindsay Lohan’s character handled her antagonistic foes in the movie, “Mean Girls”. Sometimes the victim needs to understand that the problem is less about them and more about the nature of human err.

Here are some suggestions for talking about and possibly preventing bullying:

  • ·      Ask your child direct questions about teasing
  • ·      Talk to your child about what friends he/she has and whether he/she plays alone or eats alone
  • ·      Teach your child about confidence and resilience and how to develop social skills
  • ·      Involve your child in activities that can boost self-esteem, such as sports or music
  • ·      Take threats seriously

Warning signs that your child might be experiencing bullying:

  • ·      You might notice your child acting differently or seeming anxious
  • ·      Not eating, sleeping well or doing things that he/she usually enjoys
  • ·      He/She seems moodier or more easily upset than usual, or start avoiding certain situations, like taking the bus to school
What to do if your child is being bullied:

  • ·      Encourage you child to talk about the bullying- listen in a loving manner
  • ·      Don’t assume that your child did something to provoke or aggravate a bully.
  • ·      Support your child’s feelings.
  • ·      Don’t encourage retaliation
  • ·      Teach your child safety skills when bullying occurs. This may include knowing where to turn for immediate help, how to be assertive, using humor to defuse a situation and appropriate diplomacy skills. 

  • ·      Talk to your child's educators, including teachers, guidance counselors, and principals. Work together to find real solutions now.
  • ·      Don't contact the bully's parents yourself. Let the school handle that potentially sensitive situation. 

  • ·      If your child has been physically attacked or is threatened with harm, talk to school officials immediately to help determine if police should be involved.

1 comment:

  1. You thought you wouldn't have to talk to your daughter about friendship/bullying until she was 10 and the sad truth is that it begins as early as 4 years old. I see it in my kindergarten classroom all the time and it is more common amongst the girls. I had to deal with my first 4 year old bully this year. It was very difficult at first because her mom was in denial. "Opening" her mother's eyes and working to change the hurtful behavior has made a big difference. Many parents feel that this bullying behavior is normal when they have an only child or because at four years old they are just learning to socialize. They are a wrong! It is a behavior that if left alone, can escalate and become a serious problem. Thanks for the helpful suggestions.