I, unfortunately like many others, was teased in middle school. My peers would ridicule me for being too shy and quiet. I remember staying up nights wondering if I was weird. I struggled with that insecurity so much that I felt like I might even deserve the bullying.
But that was a long time ago. Long enough for me to forget how bad it was, at least. But all of it came flooding back to me when I attended the premiere of The Secret Life of Girls at theDallas Children’s Theater. The play, which is about the challenges middle school girls face every day, gave me déjà vu, making me relive my days as an awkward middle schooler.
I believe I can speak for most females in the audience when I say it was difficult to revisit that experience. And based on the play, it seems like the conditions for junior-high girls are worse today than they were when I was their age. The bullying does seem to stop once you leave school anymore. Technology like cell phones and social networks are now used for bullying 24/7.
While I was watching the play, I kept thinking to myself, “These poor girls. Why is nobody stepping up to stop this?” The choice to take action against bullying is one that teenagers face every day. Since most bullying seems to be done in front of an audience, it’s common for bystanders to watch and shake their heads but not to intervene.
After the premiere, a group of panelists including Children’s psychologist Dr. Andy McGarrahan all stressed the importance of being an “active bystander” during a Q & A session with the audience. They said that even though standing up for someone else isn’t easy, especially for a teenage girl, it makes a big difference
Even though parents can’t speak for their children, Dr. McGarrahan said he believes parents can help their children become active bystanders. He referenced tips from Dan Olweus, Ph.D., one of the leading researchers in bullying prevention, that can be found on Olweus.org:
- Encourage your child to verbally intervene if it is safe to do so, by saying such things as: “Cool it! This isn’t going to solve anything.”
- Tell your child not to cheer on or even quietly watch bullying. This only encourages a child who bullies – who wants to be the center of attention.
- Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying. Talking to an adult is not “tattling” – it is an act of courage and safety. Suggest going to an adult with a friend, if that will make it easier.
- Praise and reward “quiet acts of courage” – where your child tried to do the right thing to stop bullying, even if he or she was not successful.
- Work with your child to practice specific ways he or she can help stop bullying. For example, role-play with him or her what he or she could say or do to help someone who is being bullied.
One way to open the discussion on bullying is to take your child to a showing of The Secret Life of Girls. The final opportunity to see it is this weekend at the Dallas Children’s Theater. Just think – this could be the perfect opportunity to be an active bystander.