Monday, February 17, 2014

Mean girls are simply bullies with lip gloss

No mother likes to see her child in pain – either physically or emotionally. I always thought the physical blows to my daughters were the most painful to endure – for me, that is. I’ll never forget when my youngest daughter broke her pinkie finger trying to field a ball during 5th grade recess. She was fascinated that her little finger was pointing in the other direction. I was queasy.

          The E.R. doctor injected her finger with something that was supposed to numb the pain. The shot alone was knee-buckling to watch. But then the doctor placed a pencil under my sweet girl’s finger and in one swift motion, snapped her bone back into place.

It was stereophonic horror: My daughter screamed in agony and I wailed hysterically. It PAINED me to see her in so much distress. The receptionist told us that our gruesome screams scared a family in the waiting room so much, that they packed up and left in a big hurry.

            Medical torture aside, in all my years as a mother, nothing has been more painful than watching the fallout from my 16-year-old daughter being bullied by a mean girl at school. Not physical bullying, like boys tend to do. But rather, the emotional kind -- subtle, subversive, calculating slashes into her self-esteem, invisible to everyone – even me.

            My daughter has had a core group of friends for three years. She is (was) especially close to one girl, who lives right across from us and works at the same retail store as my daughter. They live together, work together, play together. It is (was) a tight bond. After Christmas break, things changed dramatically. This so-called “close” friend stopped talking to my daughter and began hanging out with a girl who drinks and smokes pot.

This bad influence has been spreading unkind rumors about my daughter and telling everyone that she hates her. And instead of standing up for my daughter, her so-called “friend” has teamed up with the bully.

My daughter is dumbfounded!  She has never done anything mean to these girls, nor said anything about them that would merit such an attack against her. One day they are friends; the next day she is a pariah.
            Sounds like petty teenager stuff, I know. But emotional bullying is the kind of behavior that drives some teenagers with weaker backbones than my daughter to commit suicide. It is a real problem in high schools, and I am certain in many cases, goes unnoticed and unreported because the wounds are invisible.

According to statistics from Family First Aid, about 30 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have been involved in bullying, either as a bully or as a victim of teenage bullying. This organization claims that teenage girls often favor verbal or emotional bullying, which “aims at getting someone else to feel isolated and alone … and is designed to get others to ostracize the person being bullied.”

That’s EXACTLY what is happening to my daughter.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns that emotional bullying can lead to depression, drug use, a drop in grades, an increase in anxiety, a loss of social life and yes, even suicide. In fact, a 2011 study showed that bullying “has emerged as a contributing factor to the sharp rise in the American Indian and Alaskan Native youth suicide rate.”

I’ve seen a marked change in my daughter. She is moody, defiant and non-communicative. I can barely get her to say hello to me. If a parent isn’t paying attention, you could easily pass it off as “typical teenage behavior.” But you need to look closer, and dig deeper. Create a non-threatening environment in which to talk to her. If you’re lucky, your teen will open up to you, like mine did.

If you discover that your teenager is being bullied, adolescent psychiatrists recommend that you take the following actions:
  • Assure your teen that he or she is not to blame.
  • Don't encourage bullying victims to fight back physically; instead suggest that they walk away to avoid the bully, pair up with a buddy, or that they seek help from an adult.
  • Help your teen practice how to react the next time he or she is bullied.

As for my daughter, she showed tremendous courage by confronting the bully and her so-called “friend” head-on last week. She demanded to know why they were gossiping about her. Of course, as cowards usually do, the bully denied everything.
I, too, was a victim of bullying – twice in my life. When I was in 3rd grade, two older girls at school stole my lunch money nearly every day while I waited in line at the cafeteria. And many years later, I was also bullied by a co-worker, a female broadcaster at a radio station who yelled at me every chance she could, berating me in front of the entire newsroom. She was 54 years old and should have known better -- a mean girl all grown up.
This April 30th marks the 10th anniversary of the movie “Mean Girls,” starring Lindsay Lohan. I’m sure there will be much fanfare leading up to this “celebration.” But let’s not forget that there are countless girls and boys in this country for whom bullying is a daily torment -- not something that ends happily after two hours in a dark theater and a tasty tub of popcorn.

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