It’s back to school time — the time of year I begin to hear concerns from parents of young girls who’ve just entered middle school. They send their princess off to school with her crown neatly polished and her entourage intact. But rarely do two princesses happily exist in the same place at the same time, much less hundreds converging on a first day at middle school. So, battle lines are drawn.
It can cause your daughter a lot of confusion when she suddenly realizes there are many princesses, all vying for the same kind of attention or acceptance. She may return home from her first day at middle school confused, lost, and full of hate for everything she once loved. She may feel like a boxer who has engaged in a boxing match all day.
The problem begins when all the princesses greet one another that first day. They quickly form alliances, choose their battlegrounds, exchange their phone numbers and email addresses. They size up the competition and silently determine their battle strategy for winning acceptance and attention for the rest of the year.
At this age, girls suddenly seem at odds with one another. They compete for territory, boundaries, position, and retention of the princess crown. What should be a cordial, socially controlled expansion of a young girl’s view of the world and broadening of her educational existence becomes an all out fight for popularity, and peer acceptance. I call it the “Princess Brawl.”
It is literally a fight to determine the pecking-order that gives position and value in the eyes of one’s peers.
The Appearance Tactic
A tactic young princesses often utilize is to change their own appearance to draw attention away from the competition, thus winning the popularity vote. Appearance is especially important in the life of teens, just as it was when we were growing up. But the growing influence of seduction and immorality has convinced young girls that they need to appear seductive to win popularity. It influences how they dress, how they think, and how they act. Seemingly good kids get caught in this fight as well.
You may find your own little princess disheartened. If she’s upset one day, don’t make too much of it, but try to lovingly find out what is troubling her. You can help best by providing an atmosphere of acceptance at home where she can process her difficulties in light of what you know is true about her character. If you see her trying the appearance tactic, think of ways to help her fit in without being immodest, thereby making her a less easy target for bullies.
The Bullying Tactic
Some girls will choose “mean girl madness” as a way to preserve their princess position, turning to bullying in an effort to gain ground. They use words to destroy reputations and to damage the competition’s self-confidence, as a way of increasing their own “king of the hill” standing.
Today’s technology intensifies and multiplies the cruel insults of bullies far beyond the school corridors. Girls use text messaging, e-mails, chat rooms, social networks, and instant messaging and can hide behind a veil of anonymity to unleash their attacks. In older days, it would have been like getting on the school-wide intercom to say nasty things about another person. Such hateful words can damage a tender heart for years, and as we’ve seen in the news time and time again, it can even lead a teen to suicide.
If your child is being bullied, she may need you to go the extra mile to protect her, including going to those in authority or to the parents. And she needs her mom and dad to be sensitive to what’s going on, to bring light into her darkness and allow her own to continue to shine — in spite of the attempts of others to snuff it out.
For the parents whose teen is the instigator of bullying, they should be quick to act to shut off access to the “tools of the trade,” including the internet and text messaging, until the teen learns to be more respectful of his or her peers. The repercussions of bullying can be quite serious for the teen and the parents, and can also do severe harm to the girls who are the targets.
In either case, parents of young teens should keep a close eye on their child’s online and text-messaging activities, warning the teen that any form of bullying or passing on falsehoods will be an immediate cause for having their digital communications tools taken away from them. If the teen isn’t willing to reveal what they’ve been saying online or texting, then take it away until they do. Remember, what’s said or shown on the internet can last for years, and it can affect the future of both the teller and the one who’s talked about.
One final word to the wise…just hours before posting this article, Google was ordered by a U.S. court to reveal the identity of someone who wrote inappropriate words online about a former model. The writer had kept his identity anonymous and thought he was safe – a classic case of what I call “digital courage.” But the court today – for the first time – forced Google to reveal the writer’s identity so that he could be taken to trial for defamation of character. Such a landmark ruling sets a precedent and opens the door to defamation of character lawsuits by anyone who feels he or she was wrongly spoken about on the internet. The days of “digital courage” could be over once “digital litigation” takes root. So, protect your teen, and your pocketbook, by getting their online comments under control.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.