On Wednesday I tuned in to a Twitter Chat sponsored by @parentella on bullying, girl bullying specifically. Ainsley’s having a rough year. She’s being “shut out” by all the other girls. It’s been going on for a couple of months now.
I’ve asked hundreds of grown women and younger girls about “girl bullying” and while everyone thinks this is a horrible and terrible thing to experience and someone should do something to stop it right now, before more girls get hurt, I have yet to meet a single woman or girl who has said, “that happened to me and here’s how I stopped it.”
The consensus appears to be that there really isn’t an effective way to stop it. Not as a whole. Not as a broad social problem. I, certainly, have never experienced an effective way to stop it. I’ve never met a teacher, principal, parent or girl who has had a simple formula to stop this distinctly feminine social hell.
Ainsley’s school does everything one might think would work, there are workshops about bullying, classroom discussions, “no tolerance” pledges taken by students, a “girls lunch” where the teacher keeps the girls in the classroom to have an open discussion about what kinds of bullying or annoying and hurtful behaviors are going on. On paper this works. In reality, it appears to have little effect. Or maybe it does – maybe things would be 100 times worse without these efforts.
I often hear women say, “then you meet these girls’ mothers and you realize where they got it.” While this appears logical, I have to question the theory because I have yet to meet the woman who has said, “oh, I never experienced anything like girl bullying in my life.” They ALL say, “yeah that happened to me in 3rd grade or in my senior year or at my first job.” Which means that it is so profoundly widespread that one would have to assume that all mothers across all cultures, tribes, ethnicities and religious belief systems essentially suck or have a tendency toward meanness and actively teach this to their children.
No, I’m positive that the parents of many bullies are nice people, or have learned to become nicer people at least.
Which leads me to another questioning of bully assumptions: that bullying is learned behavior.
I question this because if you hang out with a room full of two-year-olds they are all selfish, bullying little monsters. Every last one of them is a terrible friend. They bite, they steal toys, they punch, they jockey for position at games, insist that they are always right, thrive on praise for being the best at even the littlest thing, can’t take the slightest competition or criticism at all, demand that everyone bow to their whims and if they don’t they will use manipulative methods like tantrums and screaming fits to get their way.
It’s the people around them who teach them how to be good friends, get along with others, share and cooperate. The adults around them are motivated by not wanting their two-year-old to be a social outcast for such deplorable behavior. They are also motivated by not wanting the other parents to shun them for raising such an A-hole.
Based on this, I believe it is friendship that is the learned behavior. Kindness toward the weird, different, better, worse, annoying human is the learned behavior.
My theory, and please test this and let me know if you come to a different conclusion, is that girls have no idea what they are doing socially and they are kind of bad at it, until they get better at it. The girls who stay bad at it account for the frequent comment, “God, adult women are even worse,” which is something I hear many adult women say about their coworkers and sisters-in-law.
Sometimes it takes a parent, teacher, principal or counselor saying, “You’re being awful and no one is going to want to hang out with you if you keep acting like this.” On both ends. Maybe, the pack of girls is annoyed by a particular trait – bragging, bossiness, whining, crying, secret violating – that is making it feel really, really good to be mean to her. This trait, right or wrong, will likely always lead to social danger unless the entire scope of culture changes, which isn’t likely to happen quickly, at least not while she’s still in the 3rd grade. Maybe it’s motivated by pure unadulterated jealousy – a natural human emotion that takes conscious effort to overcome. You know, like the time I received a press release about a book being published by a college senior, who had already scored better writing credits than I have in 15 years of diligence and brilliance and the subject of her book was how F#$% hard it is to be so F#$%& PERFECT. I steamed in pure jealousy for days and never did that book review, even though it might have been applicable to The Girl Revolution.
My conclusion is that we all have a little bit of Mean Girl in us, and we all have the capacity and the responsibility to overcome it.
Later, I’ll give you ways to help your daughter develop a core self that can withstand her turn in the Mean Girl Firing Range. Ways to instill a deep sense of self that won’t crumble in the face of girl bullying. As a parent, you don’t have the power to stop girl bullying in all its forms. But, you do have the power to help your daughter navigate it, stand up to it and insulate herself from it.
Tracee Sioux is a Law of Attraction Coach at www.traceesioux.com. She is the author of Love Distortion: Belle, Battered Codependent and Other Love Stories. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.