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Princesses and Bullies

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.orgYou 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.


Teens and Bullying

WEEKEND RADIO PODCAST:

Bullying is one of the most serious epidemics affecting our schools and students today.  On this edition of Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston equips parents with knowledge about the who’s, what’s, and why’s behind bullying.  By partnering with our kids, we can work together to put an end to bullying.  Join us today for Parenting Today’s Teens with Mark Gregson!


Calvary Chapel in Tucson, Arizona will be hosting Mark Gregston’s popular Tough Guys & Drama Queens Seminar on Saturday, March 22nd from 9:30 am – 3:00 pm. This 5 ½ hour seminar has proven invaluable for many families when faced with the upcoming or present challenges faced by today’s influential and sometimes overwhelming teen culture.  Mark shares his understanding of the culture, when antiquated styles of parenting are no longer effective, and suggest a new parenting model to counter the effects today’s culture is having on teens and families.  This is for parents of all age children.   For information on this seminar, contact Jennifer Deyoe at (520) 991-7662, or email her at Jennifer@calvarytucson.com.


Bullying 101

BullyingI remember it clearly.  A kid at school (lets call him Ryan) had been antagonizing me all year.  One afternoon, I was sitting down, minding my own business, when suddenly he came over and spit right in my ear!  I was too dumbfounded to do anything, and Ryan went away laughing.  I stewed over the humiliating experience all day and all night.  The next day, when I bumped into Ryan, I unleashed a torrent of verbal punches that visibly cut him down and hurt him immensely.  It was way too much.

Decades have passed since that event, but I still look for Ryan on Facebook.  I want to let him know I’m sorry for that incident so many years ago.  He was never the same kid after that, and I know my actions may have had something to do with that.

We all have stories like this, don’t we?  Maybe you acted as the bully.  Or maybe you were the one being bullied.  Either way, those incidents of mistreatment have a profound effect on our lives.  As parents, it is impossible to protect our teens from bullies at all times.  But we can prepare them.  We can give our kids the tools to guard their hearts and minds from the damage of bullying, and help others do the same.  But first, we have to learn a little bit more about the problem.

Who is the Bully?

Boys and girls are inherently different, and this is clearly evident in the way they intimidate others.  Girls tend to inflict pain on an emotional and psychological level.  It happens when they exclude victims by freezing them out of the lunchroom seating arrangements, ignoring them on the playground, or shunning them when party invitations are handed out.

Boys aren’t as subtle when it comes to bullying.  Guys are more prone to insult their victims on the playground than ignore them.  Instead of isolating a non-athletic victim during a gym class dodge ball game, they might take relentless aim and target the child.  They tend to physically harass and intimidate others through displays of strength and superiority.

Male or female, bullies act as predators.  They focus on a weakness they see in others, and exploit it for the most damage.  When they see someone with their head down, shoulders slouched, and looking apprehensive, bullies are likely to go in for the kill.  I have found that a good technique to thwart the attacks of a bully is similar to fending off bears and mountain lions.  I tell my teens to stand tall, walk with confidence, and look people in the eyes when you speak.  These subtle, physical signs tell bullies that you are not a weak target.

Relationship and Communication

A good way to prepare our teens for the bullies they face is to instill confidence in the home.  Parents need to consistently demonstrate that their child is valued and loved.  Mom and Dad, there is no better way to prepare your child for bullies than to maintain a good relationship and keep the conversation going.  Honest communication is powerful.  Once teens get talking about the emotions that have built up inside of them, it helps them release negative feelings.  Set aside an afternoon every week to sit and talk with your teen.  Ask your son or daughter, Have you ever been bullied?  How did you respond?  How did you get over it?  Knowing that someone is listening and cares makes your teen feel valued and protected.

Stop the Bystander

Cracking down on the victimizers or teaching victims to stand up for themselves is not going to stop bullying in the long run.  The only way to end the bully epidemic is to stop the bystander.  Eighty-five percent of bullying takes place in front of other people.  Bullies are performing for an audience.  When others sit back and watch someone receive unjust treatment, it only fuels the bully’s compulsion to show off for their friends.  But according to a study by The Family Resource Facilitation Program, bullying stops in less than ten seconds when someone intervenes. 

Even if your child is not bullying others or being bullied, it is crucial we explain the importance of taking a stand.  Reward and praise your kids when they speak up for someone in need.  Model the courage needed to look out for those who are being abused.  Tell them stories you hear about people supporting victims.  Helping your teen develop a strong conviction against bullying is the best way to combat this growing problem in our schools.

Care for the Bullies

When looking for someone to blame, we often put the spotlight on the bully.  But in reality, the bully is often the one who needs our help.  Intimidation is a learned trait.  A child who is victimizing another child most likely had the same thing done to him or her.  They are living out what they have learned.  Many Heartlight students have told me that they had to bully others just to survive.

Bullies need our love and encouragement.  While we do not condone their behavior, we should seek to understand what is behind their actions.  If your teen is terrorizing other kids, don’t react by blowing up.  Ask them if the same thing was done to them, and then show how their actions are causing pain.  Many times bullies do not realize how much damage they are doing.  Once confronted, they usually express remorse.  Let’s be sure to love the bullied and the bully together.

Let’s face it.  Kids are not the only ones who deal with insensitive people.  Who hasn’t encountered a bully on the freeway, in the office, or in line at the grocery store?  We are hassled by aggressive and unpleasant people even as adults.  There’s never been a better time than right now to give your child the tools they need to prepare for a world of bullies.  It’s a lesson they will carry with them through life.

*Name has been changed

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.