By Carolee Dean
Author of Forget Me Not
Girl relationships are complicated social structures often fraught with strict (but shifting) rules, mind games, and sometimes cruelty—the perfect breeding ground for bullies. I’ve been examining the phenomenon of girl bullies for my verse novel, Forget Me Not, where cyber-bullying drives a girl to attempt suicide.
I asked Laurie Bartlett, a former teen counselor, along with Andy Cullen and Lynne Ortiz, school social workers, if they thought girl bullies were more common in the current generation. Lynne says there have always been girl bullies while Andy believes they are more prevalent today than ever.
Andy says it’s hard for schools (and adults in general) to always be aware when bullying is taking place because so much of it occurs over electronic media. Cyber-bullying is more accessible to kids because parents and teachers don’t see it or hear it and therefore can’t intervene.
A teen can be dumped by their best friend, find out a classmate has been involved in a fatal car crash, and receive three hate texts all via cell phone in the time it takes to drive home from the grocery store. Without a word being spoken.
For this reason, Andy believes it’s important to monitor electronic media. She made several suggestions for doing so.
Connect with your kids on social media. Like them on Facebook, Instagram, and so on, and frequent their pages to see what’s going on.
Don’t just friend your kids; friend their friends’ parents. It’s important to be able to communicate with the adults. When our kids were young we knew their friends’ parents and could easily take action when relationships got off track.
Monitor cell phone use. Andy suggests making it a rule to require kids to charge phones in the common area or parents’ room at night. Many teens have their sleep interrupted numerous times by text messages. If those messages are emotionally charged, it’s even more disruptive.
Read your teens’ texts. Andy says this is easier to do if you have already established the rule of charging phones in a common area.
I paused at some of these suggestions which felt like a violation of privacy. I write young adult novels and take the teen’s point of view in my books. I asked Andy how reading texts would compare to reading a journal. She says a journal is a private entry of feelings and thoughts while texts are communications between peers. Although, she adds that if she was truly worried about her child, she would be far less concerned about their privacy than their safety and well-being.
She believes misunderstandings can be minimized if the rules are established early. She told her daughters before she ever gave them cell phones that since she was paying for the service, she would be reading their texts whenever she desired.
“If these rules have not been established between parent and teen, it would be a good idea to sit down as a family, have a frank discussion, and do it now. It’s never too late.”
The Good Old Days
The four of us recalled when we were teens and wanted to have a private conversation. We had to hide in the closet with the family phone. All our parents had to do to find us was follow the cord.
We also discussed how when our children were younger and we saw relationships becoming harmful, we could intervene. “Connecting with other parents is not just about protecting your kid from being bullied, it’s also about preventing them from becoming a bully,” says Andy. “If you know your child is intimidating others, you can let them know their behavior is not acceptable and talk about what is causing them to feel that cruelty is justifiable.”
Girls vs. Boys
Lynne says when it comes to bullying, she believes girls are more deliberate while boys are more explosive. With boys it’s often about a show of power while with girls it can be based on jealousy and competition that is petty and manipulative. Laurie thinks bullying is about control for both boys and girls while Andy believes girls are more influenced by the group. They have a stronger inclination to hang on the fringe of a pack of bullies so they won’t be bullied themselves and are less inclined to stick their necks out for a friend.
Another factor influencing the prevalence of girl bullies is the rise in female gang members, in which case intimidation is often about control over drugs and territory.
Are Schools Doing Enough?
Many parents express concern that schools are not doing enough to address the problem of bullying. Laurie suggests classes on ethics, logic, team building and citizenship. She says it’s a multi-faceted topic and buzz words like “bully prevention” sometimes minimize the many layers of the issue. She suggests making programs part of the whole education system, working logic and ethics into the curriculum from K-12.
Lynne agrees. She says programs need to start in elementary school and continue throughout high school and should be about a lot more than bullying, covering issues like civility, character, and how to be a good human being.
Of course, it’s hard to find time to do anything extra when teachers are focused on high-stakes testing with evaluations linked to student test performance.
We all ended our conversation by agreeing these are challenging issues for teens as well as the adults who love and care for them. Open communication is the key. Despite all our efforts, things are going to happen that we as parents and educators simply don’t see or hear. Creating open dialogue lets kids know they can come to us and that whatever their issues, they will be treated with love and understanding.
Carolee Dean is a young adult author as well as a speech-language pathologist who works with teens in the public schools. For more information about Carolee and her books, please visit her blog.
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