Remember the Lindsay Lohan movie Mean Girls, where high school students created a burn book to spread rumors about each other? While I, too, enjoyed the movie and often joke with my friends that “on Wednesdays we wear pink,” the movie exposed some very harsh realities when it comes to bullying. Sadly, the issue has only progressed since the flick came out 15 years ago with the rise of social media, and the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why provided an even clearer picture of the nationwide epidemic.
Having two young daughters ages 6 and 3, I figured we’d have a few more years before we had to address the issue, but the numbers don’t lie: More than 160,000 kids stay home from school each day to avoid being bullied, and a startling 1 in 5 school-aged children report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
I thought sending my daughter Hayley to elementary school would be sunshine and roses, but it only proved that mean girls do exist, and they’re everywhere. In my child’s class, in other classes, in the hallway, the lunch table and the playground. Hayley has a few “frenemies,” who constantly give her a hard time about anything and everything, and she’s recounted stories to me about having her shoes pulled off while hanging from the monkey bars. Last year, a classmate even tricked her into throwing away her snack, telling her it was poison.
In a world of mean girls, let’s teach our children to be kind. I did, and I’m already seeing the payoff. Will my children always be perfectly behaved? No, but I am content knowing they won’t dish out or take any type of bullying behavior.
Here 10 ways we can stop raising mean girls:
1. Encourage self-acceptance
Research shows that children who bully others often do so because they are unhappy with themselves and want to deflect the attention. Talk to your child about what makes them different and unique, and encourage them to celebrate these differences. When my daughter was picked on because she was short, I wrote a book “Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All)” so show her she is special. Books are a great way to promote self-acceptance.
2. Build a healthy dose of self-confidence
Praise your child for their intelligence, personality, appearance and abilities. Celebrate their wins with them, and let them know it is OK come in second, or even fail. Be a shoulder to cry on when they do.
3. Teach empathy
Acknowledge to your child that not everyone is the same as them and that it is okay. Role play and ask them how they might feel in someone else’s shoes. When they can understand empathy, they will learn to genuinely care about others.
4. Highlight the Golden Rule
My grandma always said you catch more bees with honey. Reinforce to your child that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. Remind them that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Do they ever notice a classmate sitting alone at lunch? Suggest they show small acts of kindness that can yield big results.