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Tuesday, June 24th, 2014
When I think back on my elementary and middle school years, I have a lot of fond memories of female friendship, from camping as a Brownie Scout to watching movie marathons at sleepovers. But there are also several instances that, to this day, make my cheeks burn in shame: not befriending a girl my first grade class had ostracized, using the (then) newfound power of the internet to mock a classmate, and hurling words at my sister that I knew would hurt the most. While in a literal sense, I knew better than to do those things, I didn’t fully comprehend the pain I caused, and similarly, I don’t think girls that gave me grief understood the power of their words and actions either.
The Kind Campaign hopes to bring some awareness to this issue of “girl-on-girl crime,” the name-calling, rumor-starting, and threat-making behavior girls these days have to deal with. The campaign is a nonprofit movement with a documentary and school assembly program that has a simple but powerful goal: encourage girls to be kinder to each other.
The initiative was launched in 2009 by Lauren Paul (wife of Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul) and Molly Thompson, Pepperdine University film grads who were both victims of girl-on-girl bullying. Since the program’s inception, the women have visited over 450 schools to screen the documentary and spread the KIND message, and this year, they are offering their program to Title 1 schools for free.
What’s interesting to me about the Kind Campaign is that it doesn’t condemn “mean girls.” The campaign site has a forum where girls share stories of painful experiences, apologize for hurting others, and pledge to end female bullying. The feature gives all girls, who have likely played both the role of aggressor and victim at some point, an opportunity to realize they’re not alone and to repent for an experience that has caused a guilty conscience.
Parents can share the campaign’s message with their kids by introducing them to the campaign website’s forum and Kind Cards (online messages of thanks to others). To spread the message to your local community, you can host a screening of the Finding Kind documentary, request a program visit to your child’s school, and encourage the formation of girls’ Kind Clubs.
Image: Girls sitting together (Shutterstock)
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Friday, March 21st, 2014
This past week, USA TODAY published an article about a school that banned a 9-year-old’s backpack. My immediate thought was that it had to be because there was profanity on it, or a controversial symbol. Nope. Grayson Bruce of Buncombe County, North Carolina is no longer allowed to wear his fuzzy, blue My Little Pony backpack. (Perhaps, now that this story made headlines, Rainbow Dash pony is a controversial symbol—the jury is still out.)
Grayson was teased by his classmates for wearing the backpack, to the point that he was scared to get out of the car one morning when his mother drove him to school. So, naturally, his mom, Nora, got the school involved. But, shockingly, the school’s solution was to ban the offending backpack.
It is the duty of parents to teach their children to stand up for themselves and try to boost their confidence as they become who they are. Sometimes a child’s attempt to self-advocate will not work, and that’s when parents should step in. But, in turn, schools must respond with the best interest of all of its students in mind. Banning a backpack that was a reason for Grayson’s peers to make fun of him is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. The backpack is so clearly not the root of the problem—and I wouldn’t be surprised if once the backpack was eliminated from the equation, these bullies would have taunted Grayson for some other reason.
The school sent powerful messages (and the wrong ones, in my opinion) when they addressed this bullying problem the way that they did:
1. Bullying is not the fault of the bully, but the victim. When the school forced Grayson to give up his backpack, they essentially agreed with the bullies that it was inappropriate or strange. They validated the taunting and made Grayson feel like he was guilty of making trouble. This is not a message we can afford to teach our children, especially at an age when they are forming moral principles. It only perpetuates a cycle of victim-blaming in our adult world.
2. It’s ok to avoid the emotional root of problems if it will reach a resolution more easily and quickly. The root of this bullying situation is a lack of acceptance for who Grayson is and how he expresses his personality. It would have been more useful and appropriate to use this moment to teach tolerance and compassion for people who may not be like you, and to say that bullying is not acceptable.
3. Bullies will get their way. The backpack was forbidden. The bullies got what they wanted. Nora pulled Grayson from school and now teaches him at home. These kids contributed to getting rid of Grayson. This consequence was positive reinforcement of their behavior.
Teaching these messages not only directly harmed Grayson, I say it harmed the development of an entire community of young students. I was bullied (emotionally and physically) in high school and my school essentially chose to ignore it—not helpful to me or to my peers. If we truly want bullying to end in our schools, and I think we do, we need to respond more appropriately and effectively to moments like this.
Grayson—if you’re reading—I think My Little Pony rocks. If you like it, wear it.
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Photograph: Credit Suzanne Tucker via Shutterstock
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Thursday, October 31st, 2013
National Bullying Prevention Month wasn’t around when I was a kid. And no one called what happened to me bullying back then—when a “friend” started talking about me behind my back and actively excluding me from our group of friends. The kind of bullying that girls tend to engage in—emotional bullying—was just something you were meant to suffer through in silence, until graduation got you (hopefully) out of harm’s way.
Back then, schools often looked the other way on physical bullying, too. When my brother repeatedly came home with cuts and bruises from being shoved and punched, the school’s vice principal told my mother that my brother needed to just punch back. And when my mother asked, incredulous, if the vice principal was actually encouraging physical violence in his school, he simply shrugged. (That’s when my parents made the decision to move to a different town to keep my brother safe.)
But what no one really talks about is the lasting damage bullying can do, long after the cuts have healed and the remarks have cleared the air. I can feel its shadow in my friendships even now, more than 20 years after I last saw my bully. (Which makes me wonder how kids today manage to keep going, when the insults and nastiness are captured forever on the internet.) I catch myself worrying when a friend turns down an invite and analyzing what was said when we get together—even though I know that the friends I have now are true friends, and that the days of bullying are over for me.
Except that it isn’t entirely, because I have to shepherd my own children through it. I’ve worked with my kids on strategies for fighting bullies, and stressed that our kids should try to befriend the kids who are being picked on, and develop empathy for everyone in their class (even the bullies). And they learn these social skills in a weekly class with their guidance counselor, now mandated by our state.
But that clearly isn’t quite enough. The boys in my daughter’s class recently started making trouble with her, mocking her with racially-tinted taunts. I’m fortunate that the school has taken it very seriously—the principal, the guidance counselor and the teacher are all working together to keep it from happening. But even then, they have to walk a fine line, as calling the kids out on it directly may just lead to more anguish for my daughter. The bullies never like a tattletale.
I know that a lot of bullying comes from the parents themselves. My brother created a documentary about bullying, and went back to our old neighborhood to interview some of his former tormentors. (A few of them, it turns out, were in jail.) One of them said that he bullied my brother because he was envious of what he had: a stable home, loving parents, and a promising future. And in retrospect, I can see how my bully’s mother may have influenced her decision to treat me that way. My only hope is that I can teach my kids to be kind, so that they don’t inflict this pain on other kids—and give enough strength to deal with the kids whose parents won’t.
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Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
If you’re asking “What is slut shaming?,” let me first illustrate what slut shaming does:
September 9, 2013: Rebecca Sedwick, 12, jumped to her death after being tormented relentlessly about how far she’d gone with a boy she had dated.
December 9, 2012: Jessica Laney, 16, hung herself after being called a slut and whore online.
October 24, 2012: Felicia Garcia, 15, threw herself in front of a speeding train after rumors spread about her having sex with members of the school’s football team.
October 10, 2012: Amanda Todd, 15, hung herself after being blackmailed and called a slut over revealing photos an adult had pressured her to take years before.
April 29, 2012: Rachel Ehmke, 13, hung herself after the word “slut” was scrawled across her locker and other kids at school repeatedly called her a “prostitute.”
The list could go on and on, but it’s frankly too depressing for me to continue. These are children we’re talking about. Children who could have—and should have—had bright futures. What is going on here? Some call it bullying, but it’s actually something far more specific. It’s slut-shaming, the practice of making a girl or woman feel guilty for expressing one of the most natural human traits—her sexuality.
The name-calling (and trust me, “slut” is only the tip of the iceberg there) usually begins in junior high or high school among students and then goes digital via social networks and group texts. That said, the seeds of slut-shaming are all too often planted well before their children reach the confusion of their teen years—and it all has to do with our society’s expectations of girls and women.
The truth is, we’re setting our daughters up to be “sexy” from the time they’re in grade school. According to a study by psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, when 60 girls age six through nine were given the choice of looking like a doll wearing revealing “sexy” clothing or another doll wearing trendy, but less provocative clothing, an overwhelming number of girls chose the sexier doll. Why? Well, perhaps that’s because, as the researchers found, “sexy” translates to “popular.” Picture these top grossing female pop stars: Beyoncé, Britney, Mariah, Lady Gaga, Miley, and Katy Perry—I think you get my point.
Even if you limit your child’s media exposure to family and children’s films and TV, they’re still getting the same message. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media revealed that nearly one in three female characters in family films wears “sexy attire,” whereas not even one in ten male characters is dressed provocatively. The message is clear: Girls are valued for their looks and their bodies, whereas boys can be valued for any number of things ranging from their bravery to their brains.
It’s the teen years where this message gets more confusing. Girls try to emulate the girls and women they’ve grown up idolizing by wearing revealing clothing or posting sexy images online. This upsets and worries parents, who often end up slut-shaming their kids as a result. A big news story from last month comes to mind: A teenage girl in Utah got dressed—in short shorts—to go mini-golfing with her family. Cue the mom calling her daughter’s shorts “slutty,” the girl refusing to change her outfit, and the dad cutting off his own jeans into short shorts that he wore on the family outing to “humiliate” his daughter and remind her and all girls of their “great worth.” Say what?! I have so many questions here. Who bought her the shorts? What does wearing shorts have to do with this girl’s worth? I’m pretty sure that her body is her own and that wearing short shorts hurts no one, except for maybe the parents who can’t handle the idea of their baby growing up and becoming a sexual being with her own identity.
Then we have mommyblogger Kimberly Hall whose slut-shaming blog post also went viral last month. Here’s just one quote from her tirade on the provocative she-demons who tempt her sons: “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress [in a sexy picture online], he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” Wow, Ms. Hall. Why not raise your boys to see women and girls as three-dimensional people with many facets, many traits, and many awesome qualities? Why not teach them that women can be both smart and sexy? That women aren’t objects? That sexual expression is a healthy, normal part of growing up? Maybe if she did that, her sons would be more likely to talk to her about safe sex when they’re ready to take that step, and they’d be more likely to have respectful, healthy relationships with women through their lives. But I guess it’s easier for Ms. Hall to slut-shame random teenage girls than to focus on teaching her sons to be respectful of women and their bodies.
Obviously, we don’t want to see our daughters fall prey to predators, we want them to respect themselves, and to express themselves in a way that’s true to who they are—but slut-shaming them or other girls isn’t the answer. If you want to help stop the cycle of slut-shaming, try these four things:
* Talk to your children (yes, girls and boys!) about sex from an early age so that it’s never seen as bad, dirty, shameful, or something to torment another person over—but just a healthy part of life.
* Resist the urge to label other women or girls as “slutty.” How someone else dresses or who she sleeps with really has nothing to do with you, and putting down other women sets a bad example for your kiddos (even if you think they’re not listening, they are!).
* Show your children as many examples of accomplished, smart, driven, adventurous and outspoken girls and women as you can. It’ll help show both your boys and girls that girls and women can be a whole lot more than just sexy—and teach your girls a lot of other ways to get positive attention.
* If you hear your child or another child calling a girl “slutty,” don’t just stand by, thinking it’s harmless girl talk. Find out what’s going on and see how you can help. That girl’s life might be on the line.
If you’ve got more ideas on how parents can help stop slut-shaming, leave them in the comments.
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Image of girl crying via Shutterstock.
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bullying, confidence, gender roles, parenting, raising girls, self worth, sex, sexism, slut shaming, suicide, teen suicide | Categories:
Child Development, The Parents Perspective