Let’s stop raising mean girls

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.

October is dedicated to preventing childhood bullying with the observance of National Bullying Prevention Month, and 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 are the 10 philosophies we live by:

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.

5.     Stress the importance of inclusion
Has your child talked about another classmate who is withdrawn? These kids are likely the targets of bullies. Encourage your child to show they care by acknowledging and including them. It can be as simple as inviting them to sit together at lunch, or play together at recess.

6.     Raise upstanders, not bystanders
Even if your child isn’t bullying anyone, acting as an audience for the bully and saying nothing is just as bad. Often times, bystanders don’t know what to do. Speak to your child about the importance of using their voice to take action to tell the bully to stop or to report the behavior to an adult.

7.     Speak nicely about others, and yourself, too
A child’s mind is like a sponge – they absorb everything. Make a conscious effort to only let your child hear you speak about others – as well as yourself – in a nice way. 

8.     Model positive behavior
Children take cues from their parents, so what you do is more important than what you say. Let your kids see you opening the door for strangers or giving up your bus seat for someone who is elderly. Simple, kind gestures like this help you role model the behavior you want to see from your kids.

9.     Give back
Whether it is organizing a toy drive for needy children or serving meals to those less fortunate, provide meaningful opportunities for your child to experience giving back in the community.

10.  Keep the conversation going

Schedule an informal “check in” with your child to talk about their friendships at school. Take them out for ice cream, and show genuine interest in their day-to-day life at school.

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Lori Orlinsky is a multi award-winning children’s book author, freelance writer and marketing director who lives in Chicago. She is certified by the CDC in Bullying Prevention and Response Training, and is an ambassador for the PACER's National Bullying Center. Lori is the mother of two little ladies who are small but mighty. Her children's picture book "Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All)," is available on Amazon, and at 5"1, she wishes it was around when she was growing up.