Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But names will never hurt me.
The composer of that playground chant was sadly naive. Name-calling and other forms of non-physical abuse deeply damage victims with wounds that cannot be healed by bandages and aspirin.
Pixie Girl was a happy, well-liked kid until Grade Seven when her social existence turned into a waking nightmare. That year, my outgoing daughter won the lead role in the school musical. Mean Girl, who had been a regular in Pixie Girl’s stable of friends for years, also tried out for the part and was none too thrilled when she didn’t get it. From the moment of the announcement, Mean Girl made it her personal mission to make Pixie Girl miserable. My daughter was excluded from everything. Mean Girl, already popular, encouraged and, in fact, demanded all the other girls to shun Pixie Girl. She prohibited her from the lunch table and forbade anyone to invite my daughter to a party. Pixie Girl was wrecked. My normally happy kid cried all the time and soon became prone to panic attacks—all of this because one kid decided to levy her wrath in order to feel in control.
As a parent, I felt completely helpless. My previously content daughter was melting before my eyes like a snowman during a crazy winter thaw. All I could do was mirror her feelings, hold her and promise her that this social fugue would blow over. I tried to teach her to act bored when Mean Girl insulted her, to appear strong and unruffled But, Pixie Girl was inexperienced at pretending this way. Inside, I was in agony and so angry. Why didn’t any of the other girls stick up for Pixie Girl? Where were Mean Girl’s parents in all of this? I called the school and they did their best to address the situation but Mean Girl was relentless and a master at looking sweet and friendly to the adults around her. It was heartbreaking and I just wanted my Pixie Girl to smile again.
In the end, my daughter was helped by a boy, my best friend’s son, who, when he learned about what was occurring, rallied his friends to give Mean Girl a taste of her own medicine. Whenever they saw Pixie Girl at recess or lunch, they would join her. If Mean Girl was around but Pixie Girl entered the room, they would leave Mean Girl and go to Pixie Girl, encircling her with protection like a herd of elephants protects its young. It didn’t take long for Mean Girl to get the message, and as soon as she changed her behaviour, all the other girls followed suit.
Humans have a universal yearning for relationship and sometimes, this desire makes otherwise good people do horrible things even when they know their actions are morally wrong. The longing is particularly strong in the tween and teen years when social standing is of utmost importance. These days, with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, relational aggression is even more prevalent and easier to achieve. If left untended, it can not only bring about lasting damage to its victims, but can also be responsible for continued cruel behaviour in its perpetrators. Socially sadistic teenage girls may become verbally abusive adults, manipulative spouses and poisonous co-workers.
If your child’s demeanour undergoes a drastic change, if the phone stops ringing, if she becomes nervous, unwilling to go to school, don’t chalk it up to the hormonal moodiness of teenagedom. Talk to your kids, talk to the school and talk to other parents. There is a lot of empathic teaching that can be done to help break down social problems between kids and help them learn to accept and consider their peers without losing personal ground. Also, and this is almost even more difficult than watching your child as victim, we need to keep an eye on signs of bullying in our own children. Does your child obsessively “dis” someone who was once a friend? Is she constantly making negative comments about others? Sometimes, kids become so overwhelmed with a need for attention and status that they turn to bullying. These kids are hurting, too. They need our love, understanding and experience to teach them that there are better ways to be human.
Grab your daughter and ask her to watch this amazing video featuring a group of moms and teens with tips on how to survive Mean Girls in highschool.
Whoever decided to call gifted kids “gifted kids” either had a perverse sense of humour or a humorous sense of perversity.
My eighteen year-old son Lazyboy is gifted. It is as if he possesses super powers. Lazyboy, able to memorize entire textbooks after just one reading; Lazyboy, able to solve four-page chemistry questions without lifting a pencil; Lazyboy, able to play perfect soulful guitar after three months of self-teaching. Wow, you’re thinking. But not so fast. Lazyboy has his own kryptonite, which also happens to be my greatest worry for him: an allergy to hard work.
While my son is wonderfully sweet and engaging, he is also hyper-sensitive, anxious and overwhelmed by challenging situations. Since most academics come easily to him, Lazyboy treats homework and studying as pesky irritants to his otherwise laid-back lifestyle. In his smart yet slothful brain, Lazyboy thinks, "why do this math assignment when I already know the answers?"
Why study for a test when the facts are already ensconced in his brain, as easy to access as a bag of chips from the kitchen cupboard? Oh, and Lazyboy likes his chips; after all, they’re the perfect complement to an afternoon of gaming.
This past fall, with university applications brewing, I implored Lazyboy to work hard. “It’s all good, Mom,” he told me, but it wasn’t.
Six weeks into the semester, Lazyboy’s strategy of “less is more” revealed its flaw. He was failing math and chemistry, not because he didn’t know it, but because he hadn’t done any homework and had never shown what he knew on paper or in class. His reaction to this news was to hurl himself and scream that he would end up homeless. Did I mention that sometimes gifted kids are over-dramatic?
I want my son to understand that hard work pays off. When you work, your life works. When you sit on your hands or use them to shove candy into your mouth, ultimately the world doesn’t taste so sweet. We all need opposites in our lives—such as work and play—so that we can experience the difference.
My husband and I decided to implement some serious behaviour therapy. We told Lazyboy that he would receive all the love he could handle and also be entitled to food and shelter. Beyond that, privileges such as driving the car, playing video games, and receiving allowance would be suspended if he did not apply himself to his school work. We were careful to point out that marks were not important and that if we saw him working hard and trying, we would celebrate the effort regardless of the grade. It was extremely “noisy” in our house after this proclamation.
Usually even-tempered, Lazyboy raged against the unfairness of the new rules. We stayed neutral and reminded him that we loved him too much to miss out on this important life lesson and eventually, after a couple of weeks, our son stopped complaining and started working. His level of effort and his marks shot up like sunflowers in summer.
Lazyboy recently received early acceptance into three of his chosen universities, one with a substantial scholarship. Most parents would be thrilled for their child, but our reaction was bittersweet. The most ironic postscript to this tale is that with the acceptances came letters congratulating Lazyboy on his “outstanding grades that are clearly the result of many years of diligence and effort!”
Lazyboy and I both laughed out loud at the irony of this. As parents, we are happier when Pixie Girl receives a 72% in English than when Lazyboy gets a 90%. She is all about effort—he is just rocking his “gift.”
I am hopeful that as he matures, my son will learn to try more often and experience the joy and satisfaction that hard work can bring. In the meantime, I remain vigilant, watching out for kryptonite, guarding the progress he has made.