Over the past few years, the issue of bullying has entered the national dialogue in a major way, such as through anti-bullying efforts like the “It Gets Better Project”. The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana held a small group discussion about bullying on Wednesday afternoon in Lake Forest between “Bullied” author Carrie Goldman, and Maria Wynne, the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana CEO.
The Girl Scout Research Institute recently found that young girls are increasingly being influenced by different forms of media, such as reality television, which can glorify cattiness and bullying. In fact, their research showed that 78% of girls who regularly watch reality television agreed that “gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls”, and 37% agreed with the statement that “being mean earns you more respect than being nice.”
“For us at the Girl Scouts, [bullying] is a key element of discussion,” Wynne said. “We know how bullying can shape the destiny of a child, their self-esteem and their overall childhood, which should be nothing but joyful.”
Goldman was inspired to write “Bullied” after her daughter Katie’s story went viral. Katie was an adorable first grader with a passion for Star Wars. She proudly carried her Star Wars lunchbox and water bottle to school every day until, one day, she told her mom that she didn’t want to anymore. After some gentle questioning, Goldman learned that Katie was being teased at school, and was being told that Star Wars was only for boys.
Goldman wrote about the incident on her blog, “Portrait of an Adoption”. She sent the link out to her daughter’s school principal, who then forwarded it out to the teachers. The president of the school PTA asked to post it on the school list serve for all to see and things rapidly grew from there. Suddenly, Katie’s story was being featured on CNN, MSNBC and even international news stations. George Lucas Studios, NASA and proud “nerd girls” like Felicia Day reached out to Katie and showed support.
But it wasn’t the celebrities and media that really touched Goldman – it was the thousands and thousands of people commenting on the blog and sharing their own stories of being bullied.
“Something bigger was going on,” Goldman said. “Bullying was a phenomenon in the culture that I wanted to explore.”
In the small group discussion in Lake Forest, Goldman noted that one of the major differences between bullying and having a bad day is repetition. Bullying is classified as being a repeated, unwanted attack. While everyone is subject to a bad day – and the occasional negative response from peers, bullying is that being a regular, recurring thing. If your child or teenager is being bullied, Goldman recommends keeping a written record of the incidents – no feelings, no emotions, just hard facts – the date, the time, who was involved and what happened. This keeps everyone more rational and clear thinking if the matter has to be addressed on a higher level.
Goldman also noted that bullying is often learned from a child’s parents.
“Mean girls often have mean moms,” she said. By this, she meant that sometimes a parent will cut down another adult with their friends, not realizing that their child may be listening - and now believe that its okay to be mean to others.
In an effort to promote bullying prevention in middle school-aged girls, the Girl Scouts of the USA have created the “Be a Friend First” (BFF) program, which aims to help girls learn to become peacemakers and impact change.
Wynne and Goldman also participated in a discussion on Wednesday night in Vernon Hills, where they talked about bullying issues with Girl Scouts in grades 5 and up, as well as their parents and community members.