We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside
October 12, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside

Mean girl bullying is showing up in younger and younger age groups. An article by Pamela Paul, in Sunday’s New York Times tackles this complex topic. Let’s look at some of the key issues. First, is the labeling of “mean girls”.

Paul writes,

A kindergarten teacher at one of New York City’s top private all-girls schools observed, “The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Now that is a pretty big statement. Mean girls, mean moms. Nice girls, nice moms.  Seems too broad and more importantly, what do we do with that?

Who of us has not made many a snarky comment about how someone looks or acts? Or not had zillions of mean thoughts about someone?  Not you, not me. All of us have a mean part. Too often we label the whole person by looking at just one of their characteristics. No one is defined by one quality- we are all made up of a multitude of parts. A care-taking part of our personality, a sad part, a courageous part, and a part that lashes out.  This mean part develops to protect us- to make us feel better and to shield us from feeling shame, rejection, or loneliness.

Take this scenario: You show up at the park with your kids and see two mothers from school sitting together on the bench talking. You automatically feel nervous because you are a lone adult and would love some company. In a nano second the following inner experience takes place: You wonder if you should approach the two mothers. You think one of the women sees you but turns away. Immediately, the mean part jumps out to protect you by thinking, “They are such snobs, and their kids are out of control. At least I pay attention to my kids in the park!” You walk to the other end of the park.

When looking at it closer, that mean part just doesn’t want you to experience those uncomfortable feelings. It wants you to feel strong, better in fact. The same is true with children. Imagine the same scenario at the writing center at school. The mean part in a little kid is just as protecting as an adult, and an intimidated child will likely have the same reaction.

Talking to kids about their mean parts -not telling them that they are mean- will help them to stop bullying.

But here’s the really tough part.

“The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Parents of kids that bully or condescend to others need to hold up a mirror to their own behavior. One-upsmanship, criticizing others for not being as smart, as rich, as pretty, as athletic, etc. in an ongoing way will create children who feel they have the freedom to do the same. Parents that have a strong mean part will most likely have kids that develop one too. So the first step in combatting relational bullying is to shine a light on your own need to put others down. Take that mean part in hand, recognize that it is protecting you and help that part of you to stop hurting other people.  This is the key to making our children safe psychologically, emotionally and physically.

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Phoebe Prince’s Death: A New Look At Bullying
April 8, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Child Abuse, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Relationships, Social Action, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

bullyingPhoebe Prince, the high school girl who hung herself last week, was purportedly “bullied” to death. Tortured is more like it. Hounded, cursed, humiliated in school and on-line. Defining bullying clearly is critical. Many adults think of bullying as a rite of passage in childhood. Clearly there is a difference between being picked last in gym class and being targeted by an individual or group of kids whose aim is to intimidate and shame.  Today’s landscape for children is also markedly different in that Facebook and email amplifies and exacerbates the intensity of peer relationships.We need to take a fresh look at bullying.

“Peer Abuse” is a phrase that more clearly defines the difference between teasing and belittling. “Peer Abuse” includes not only the physical aggression most associate with bullying, but also the verbal and emotional abuse that are a part of situations like Phoebe’s.

“Peer Abuse” are repeated acts over time of physical assault, psychological manipulation, name calling and using social power to ostracize an individual or group. This goes against our commonly held belief that bullies are loners, having been rejected socially. New research shows that it is often popular kids that use subtly abusive tactics to put down others to maintain their social status. Becoming the victim of malicious bullying can happen for a variety of reasons.

The message here for parents is that any of our children can, and most likely will be aggressive or cruel to other children at some point. Make this an open discussion in your family: Model respectful behavior, take seriously claims that your child is being bullied, talk about the pressure and responsibilities that come with popularity. Teach your child to speak up and stand up if someone is being abused. Adults need to do the same. The stakes are too high to be complacent.

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Parental Cyberbullying
June 4, 2009 · Posted in Bullying, Education, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments (1)

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There have always been self-righteous meddling parents. Parents who can’t believe that their child would ever do anything wrong.  Our modern technology has taken it to a new level. Parents in groups have reported receiving angry emails with complaints about their child.

Subject:  Sallie’s food issues!
“Your child mentioned the word diet at my house, what is going on in YOUR house that your 7 year old would be talking about food like that?”

Subject: Joey’s Party
“Joey  didn’t invite my Charlotte to her birthday party. I can’t believe you were so insensitive”

No birthday party had even been planned. The birthday wasn’t for another 2 months. The two girls had just had a typical five year-old fight culminating with the age old refrain, “You can’t come to my birthday party!”

There is a lot of focus on bullying these days and cyberbullying, specifically.  We do need to be concerned about our kids being bullied or being bullies, but maybe we need to look in the mirror first.

We know that when our children are hurt, we hurt. There is no way around that. But if we can contain, control and tolerate our vicarious pain then we can be much more helpful to our kids.  We can help them figure out how to solve the problem, sometimes by saying or doing something and sometimes by letting it go. If we act outraged when  our child reports a slight, we escalate their pain and the child’s sense of self-importance. If we actually send an email attacking another parent and child we are crossing boundaries, behaving rudely and inflating our self-importance.

Email is so wonderful but so dangerous. Tone can be misunderstood, text can be misinterpreted and messages can be copied to others, dragging other parents and teachers into a personal conflict with the click of a mouse. If we want our children to grow up being respectful of other people’s boundaries, which is no small task, then we have to model that behavior.

All the little fights, exclusions, and insults between children are part and parcel of growing up.  Tolerating social bruises is one of life’s big lessons.  So here’s your lesson.  Write your emails complaints about other people’s children and save them as a draft. Then press delete. If the problem is repetitive, or really serious, please call. Like in the olden days.

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