An article that appeared in the New York Times on October 8, (click here for a link to the original article), puts forth research to support the idea that bullying-wise, things are getting worse for girls ages 3-9, and that while you used to expect to see mean girl bullies emerge around fifth grade, parents are now in fear for their children at a much earlier age. All of this is ostensibly brought on by an increase in violence and mean girl modeling seen on TV, as well as parents who don’t do their jobs.
It aggravated me so much that I have to address it. The idea that mean girls were invented in the year 2000 is insane. It’s a problem, for sure, but it was an issue when I was growing up, and long before that, too.
In my case bullying began when I was six and went on pretty consistently until I was eleven. Whether I was the American girl, the French girl, the Buddhist girl, the Poor girl or just the Weird girl, I was picked on and ostracized.
And now I have a six, almost seven-year old girl. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s bullied, but she certainly has experienced her fair share of social difficulties. She is fantastic, by the way, but nevertheless she is at a disadvantage in some obvious areas; she is chubby (watching her experience her first few “you’re fat” s has been a true delight), and used to be audibly asthmatic, plus everything makes her cry. For the record, she was 27 pounds at 9 months, before she even ate food. This is her shape, and I want her to love it. At any rate, in addition to that, for two years she was on meds that nearly nullified her already challenged impulse control. She was so amped up that she just ran around in circles. I hated the way she alienated herself by touching people when they asked her to stop and her extreme sensitivity, because it reminded me so much of myself. I wasn’t chubby until high school, but man, at her age I had some issues.
Aside from anything obvious that sets a kid apart from the “norm” and makes them easy prey, sometimes kids are just jerks (yes, mine too). I lost control on a little girl when she spat on my daughter at the Jersey shore last year. Spat! Her mother did not come forward even though I was shrieking for her, and I finally left, spewing profanity at the playground at large while everyone covered their children’s ears.
Even worse than the times I have actually allowed myself to attack or react, are those when I have watched my daughter excluded in silence. I try reminding myself that I cannot take on every single incident full throttle, that I don’t have the stamina for it. But it just hurts so much that I fold in on myself entirely.
Last summer, my daughter went through a particularly vicious bout of rejection. It amazed me how the general psyche took over and deemed her a pariah (not that she wasn’t being exceedingly annoying, not that she wasn’t being unyielding, not that she wasn’t totally bringing it on herself, but ouch). In spite of having been released from therapy (CURED! Mmmm-hhmmm) I scurried back because I felt like all my skin had been peeled off and that didn’t seem like any way to live.
Dr. Glenn calmly informed me that because of my own history, ages 6-10 would likely be the equivalent of a giant open wound at worst, and a painful stubbed toe at best, and that I needed to learn to separate my experience from hers, and take each incident as its own.
WELL, that’s crazy talk, but I braced myself to try.
Fortunately, my daughter went back to school in September, and got all the love she’d been missing in the summer months, and now she’s good as new. And she always has her neighbor bestie, who is walking salve for my kid. I thank the universe for her, regularly. I’m sure it will swing around again, but for now we’re safe.
She’s not always the victim, and like I said, she brings a lot of it on herself. She’s a little weirdo just like I was, and I’ve seen her be a wench, too; I know she can be. Nobody pokes and irritates like my girl, that’s for sure; she’s no innocent.
We all have to watch our kids ping-pong back and forth between being the hurter and the hurtee for their entire childhoods, unless they are one of the lucky few who escape both, and fly under the schoolyard radar.
I don’t see much difference between now and when I was growing up, not even in terms of TV. Think about it. I won’t get into it at length, but as an avid TV watcher I was exposed to an awful lot in 1980. If anything, TV is a little bubblegummed up these days.
So how do we handle this problem? By nature kids are constantly manipulating the only real currency they have access to: the social. And what better way to assert that currency than to gain the submission and/or adulation of their peers? What better way to manage their sense of utter powerlessness? My stomach hurts right now, thinking about it.
The human condition is what it is, and it is a nasty bitch. It’s watching that, and re-experiencing it that is the scratchiest biggest horsepill to swallow. It sucked in the eighties and it sucks now. The picked on eight year old girl hasn’t figured out that in life, it’s better to be weird, it serves you not to fit in, that none of the greats ever did. You can’t explain to them that in the end, the thick skin they will have, the savvy, will make up for what they have to endure today.
All you can do is pay attention, so when your kid is the jerk (mine pinched her best friend’s cheek to bruising last year…yep) you are ready to take all the action you can. It’s the parents who sit back and do nothing who infuriate me. Let’s try, at least, to make good kind people. DO SOMETHING!
Mean girls have always been and will always be, at 7 and at 17, even in middle age, and moms who say different have short-ass memories.