Females and Bullying
Several weeks ago after writing some commentary regarding domestic violence I had stated I wanted to share some concerns and observations about girls who bully. I am offering my comments now and am open to feedback from anyone. As the Executive Director of the Family Violence Coalition of Yancey County, Inc. my co-workers and I deal with issues of violence on a daily basis. Knowing that we learn how to become violent, I have been consciously aware of how I am raising my own child, a daughter. For her entire life she has heard me tell her that while I want her to do her best in school, more important to me than her grades is for her to a kind and loving human being. I have explained to her in no uncertain terms that I will not tolerate her being cruel or unkind. Those were my expectations for her as a child, now as a 12 year old, and hopefully as an adult. So far, so good. It has taken time and effort on my part. We, as parents, have to re-direct behaviors we observe in our children as well as comments they make abut others. My daughter has come home from school telling stories about bullying behaviors by other children and most of the stories involve girls bullying and belittling other girls or boys. I am hearing that teachers, school guidance counselors, and school administrators stay on top of this sort of behavior once they learn about it. Corrective actions are taken. But, damage to the child or children being ridiculed by their peers has been done and is real. Often we want to simply say, “Well kids are just being kids.” That is easy to say if you are not the kid who is being tormented by your classmates. Thankfully I am not having to write this due to my own child being the victim of such behaviors. I am sure she has been at some point, but her self esteem is fairly intact and she can roll with the insults. But, some children’s self esteem is not as well developed and the bullying, insults, etcetera can make their lives miserable. Growing up in Columbia, S.C. and starting first grade in 1969 I attended an affluent private school on the other side of town. My family was not wealthy. I did not realize this fact of life until 5th grade, but that year of school I did. I was going through a chunky phase in 5th grade and where in years past I had been deemed a rather “popular” kid, by 5th grade I had fallen from grace. I am now 45 years old with fairly great self esteem, but to this day I can recall the name of my tormentor. Her name was Beth L. and I can still see her face and the faces of any other bullying girl to follow her. By 6th grade and a new school later I was anorexic and stayed that way until about 8th grade. I had good parents who worked with me and taught me to become an individual – a non-conformist. My father taught me early in life that many of the expensive clothing brands are made in the same overseas sweat shops as the lower priced brands. There wasn’t then and there is not now a bit of difference in some of the clothes other than the labels sewn into the items of clothing. What we as consumers are paying for is the cost of the marketing schemes the high end clothing manufacturers push our way. As adults we fall for it, but especially during the hyper-sensitive to name brand clothing years of middle school and high school our children certainly buy into the marketing ploys. Limited Too, Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister, and American Eagle Outfitters are a few of the stores that I know are popular with these age groups. I am not trying to demean these clothing lines at all, but am aware that a great many families in our community cannot afford to buy these clothes for their children. I am focusing on girls for the sake of this commentary and I know how cruel girls can be in comparing clothing brands – who is wearing what. Girls whose parents cannot afford to send them to school in high priced clothing should not be brought to tears by other girls. I know this is an ages old issue, but as we progress as a society we know the devastating effects bullying behaviors have on children. It has been proven that the kids who blast into schools with guns have more likely than not been the kids who were bullied excessively by other kids. They become “outsider” kids and either hurt themselves (cutting behaviors, suicide) and/or hurt others (i.e. Columbine, etc.). Being ridiculed about clothing styles, hair styles, acne, being awkward, who can afford what new electronic gadget, etcetera seems fairly frivolous to us as adults with good self esteem, but it can be devastating when we are 12, 13, 14, 15, 16….. It does not just end with comments in the hall over clothing and hair. Having worked in Child Protective Services for 10 years in this area of Western N.C. before taking this job, I got to know a lot of teenagers. I heard many stories of girls ganging up with other girls against another girl. And bragging about their behaviors! Bragging about beating up another girl! Since taking this job I have had two or three mothers and teenaged girls come into my office and share stories about their lives becoming intolerable in school and after school in the community due to bullying behaviors of other teenaged girls and/or the older sisters who for some reason seem to need to get into the act. I once met up with a carload of teenaged girls in my own driveway after taking this position with the FVC who were looking for a young woman staying in our domestic violence shelter, pretending to be her friends. Of course I could not disclose that I even knew this young woman, but I later learned that their intention was to harm her because one of the teenaged girls in the car was dating our shelter client’s estranged husband. Our shelter client was pregnant with this man’s child and this carload of girls wanted to threaten or intentionally bring physical harm to his pregnant woman. I learned more about their intent in a round about way and am not mentioning names so do not have to prove that what I heard was accurate, but sadly it does not surprise me. Bottom line, who do we hold accountable for the bullying and/or violent behaviors and comments of our children? Ultimately the person being cruel is to blame, but we as parents and caregivers of these cruel children are at fault. In modern day times we try to get the school to fix everything that is broken with our children or call DSS or even stop by DSS with the teenager who is out of control and get DSS to fix that child. Neither the schools nor DSS broke the child. It is the responsibility of us as parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and other concerned loved ones of children to set the example and re-direct behaviors. Every child in school needs to be able to enjoy middle school and high school just as much as the others. We need to teach our children to dare to be different as my father used to tell me growing up. He and my mother, but especially my father, taught me to be an individual. He also told me over and over again to be able to look myself in the mirror at night and like who was looking back. He and my mother taught me not to be cruel to others. But for the grace of God go you and me, my grandfather used to say and my father passed it on to me. No one wants to be the kid who is different. We need to teach our children that all human life is valuable and every one of us is unique with special gifts to offer this world. We need to teach our girls that being creative – in creating our own sense of style – by hooking up an outfit (as the kids say today) by way of thrift stores, Wal-Mart, and other discount stores is a very cool thing to do. We need to teach our kids that there is no one real definition of beauty – that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We need to teach our kids that being cruel to other human beings is wrong. And hold them accountable.