With Hair Bows and Chores, YouTube Youth Take On Mean Girls

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JoJo Siwa, wearing her signature hair bows, has millions of YouTube views to her credit.CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Thirteen-year-old JoJo Siwa rolled up to school in a souped-up vintage car with a giant pink bow plastered on the grill. Inside the car, with her blond hair tightly pulled into a side ponytail and wrapped in a pastel yellow bow, she sang to her mother, “I don’t really care about what they say,” while a group of mean girls wearing not-so-pastel clothes snickered from a bench. (We know they’re mean girls because the words “mean girls” are displayed on the screen next to them.)

“Don’t let the haters get their way,” JoJo’s mother, also clad in yellow pastel, told her.

No worries. The new young teenage heroine of suburban America showed no fear. After winning a rowdy dance battle in her video “Boomerang,” which has gotten over 200 million views on YouTube, JoJo places a purple bow on the lead mean girl. Everyone becomes best friends.

JoJo Siwa – BOOMERANG (Official Video) Video by Its JoJo Siwa

Unlike the red, oversize scrunchie Heather Chandler wore in “Heathers,” which was a symbol of power and authoritarianism, the bow worn by JoJo is a symbol of confidence: believing in yourself and, more important, being nice to others.

Thirteen-year-old girls aren’t generally known for their oversize bows these days, but JoJo isn’t your typical teenager. She just signed a multiplatform deal with Nickelodeon, which includes consumer products, original programming, social media, live events and music.

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JoJo performing during the 2016 Nickelodeon HALO Awards. CreditMichael Loccisano/Getty Images

Since June, JoJo’s Bows — made by H.E.R. Accessories, a licensee of JoJo’s — have been among the top sellers at Claire’s, the store popular among the middle-school set, according to Hind Palmer, Claire’s global brand marketing and public relations director.

“I can’t believe it’s a hair bow that’s doing this,” said Jennifer Roth Saad, the creative director of H.E.R. “I’ve never seen something like this.”

JoJo said in a phone interview that she had worn a side ponytail with a bow since she was 4, and she has worn it through most of her career, which includes stints on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” and “Dance Moms.” But recently, she has become well known to her 2.7 million YouTube subscribers for wearing a bow and being goofy by showing videos of her sick in bed, getting ready in the morning and playing pranks on another YouTube star.

“I’m 13, and I like being 13,” said JoJo, who divides her time between Omaha and Los Angeles. “A lot of people my age try to act 16. But just be your age. There’s always time to grow older. You can never grow younger.”

Indeed.

In Britain, where JoJo’s bows are even more successful than they are in the United States, the head teacher of a school in Bury banned the bows because they were distracting, while another school, in Long Eaton, permitted the bows so long as they conformed to dress code colors.

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The 13-year-old is part of a growing group of girls who are documenting routine behaviors and activities online for audiences nearing and in their early teenage years. CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Shauna Pomerantz, a sociology professor at Brock University in Ontario and an author of “Smart Girls: Success, School and the Myth of Post-Feminism,” said school administrators had historically policed girls for wearing skirts that were too short or having exposed bra straps, not for an accessory reminiscent of the 1950s. “JoJo stands for being nice,” she said. “And the bow is a representation of JoJo. Ultimately the goal of that video is to suggest that meanness isn’t cool, and niceness is cool.”

In a world where parents of children ages 8 to 14 have long been concerned about hypersexualized clothing, early puberty and overly sophisticated media messages, JoJo is part of a growing group of girls documenting routine, age-appropriate behaviors and activities such as being nice, doing their chores, divulging what’s in their backpacks, making dresses out of garbage bags and working to pay for their own clothes.

The 12-year-old competitive gymnast Annie LeBlanc, a.k.a. Acroanna, has had a YouTube channel since she was 3. On her channel, which as been viewed a combined 174 million times, Annie documents herself making slime blindfolded and investigates what’s in her purse. But mostly she appears on her family’s channel, Bratayley, where 3.9 million subscribers follow her, her parents, her 8-year-old sister, Hayley (who also has her own channel), as well as archival footage of her brother Caleb, who died two years ago at age 13 of a heart condition. There are Bratayley sponsorship deals, Bratayley merchandise and a more recent invitation for Annie to participate in Nike’s Young Athletes program, which, naturally, was documented on Bratayley.

Many popular videos made by girls in the pre- and early teenage years live on nine connected YouTube channels. Seven Super Girls, the most successful of these channels, has over six million subscribers and its videos have been viewed a combined 6.9 billion times. Each channel — others are called Seven Cool Tweens, Seven Awesome Kids and Seven Twinkling Tweens — is run with more efficiency than some professional media sites: Each girl is responsible for making a video on a specific day of the week. (Annie was on Seven Awesome Kids from 2010 to 2011.) They follow a set of guidelines that include weekly themes, and precludes them from giving their surnames and location.

The SAKs channels, as they are known, were started in 2008 by seven families in Britain who, in the early days of YouTube, wanted to make sure their children were making family-appropriate content. The only remaining parent of that original partnership is Ian Rylett, who is currently in charge of the SAKs operation.

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JoJo’s Bows have been among the top sellers at Claire’s, the store popular among the middle school set, according to a company spokeswoman. CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Mr. Rylett, who lives in Leeds, said producing the channels was essentially his full-time job. He and a team of six others take care of copyright issues, create sponsorship deals, come up with weekly themes, monitor the channels and arrange meet and greets. The tickets for a 1,000-seat event that is coming up in Orlando, Fla., are selling for $30 each.

Mr. Rylett receives an income from the channels, as do some of the girls. The girls own their own content, he said, but they have not signed contracts.

Alexis, a 12-year-old from Southern California whose parents wanted her surname withheld for privacy reasons, has made close to 200 videos for Seven Cool Tweens and Seven Awesome Kids over the past three years. Alexis wears her reddish-brown hair in a braid, no makeup and braces. Her bedroom isn’t catalog perfect. Her most popular videos revolve around silly antics like pranking family members (which received 23.2 million views), making a mess of herself and her outfit before the school dance and getting grounded for life. The appeal? “Kids want to watch kids,” Alexis said in a phone interview.

Emily (a screen name), 12, of Seven Awesome Kids is home-schooled in Southern California. Some of her most popular videos — she writes and edits them herself over two days — include walking through a mysterious forest and finding an angel potion. “She’s a little Stanley Kubrick, controlling everything,” said her father, Tim Gould.

While Alexis has received money from the SAKs channel (though she has not been involved in sponsorship deals), Emily has not received money, their parents said.

“They’re free to leave whenever they want,” Mr. Rylett said. “They can take their content with them. When they do get older, it is quite common for them to look back and say, ‘Eww.’”

The parents seemed ambivalent about the arrangement — knowing that allowing their children to have an online identity comes with risks of harassment or worse — but they don’t want to stop their daughters from dreaming of becoming a director or an editor or a writer. Or a television star.

Yet this YouTube activity, even depicting wholesome activities, is disconcerting for Emily Long, the director of communications and development at the Lamp, a media-based literary group. “It’s troublesome to me when I see this being celebrated as the herald of what our young girls should aspire to,” Ms. Long said. “That you, too, can go from being a YouTube star to having your own deal on Nickelodeon.”

She would like to see girls being recognized for more thoughtful content, she said, such as that of Marley Dias, 12, who started the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign last year after recognizing a scarcity of black-girl protagonists.

“If I had a 13-year-old,” Ms. Long said, “I would push her toward someone like Marley Dias instead of JoJo. But Marley Dias doesn’t sell giant hair bows. Marley Dias sells social justice and social causes and writing and nerd culture. And there’s plenty to market there.”

An App Combats Bullying, One Anonymous Compliment at a Time

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A friend’s death served as the impetus for Austin Kevitch’s anti-bullying app.CreditNathaniel Wood for The New York Times

Name Austin Kevitch

Age 25

Hometown Blue Bell, Pa.

Now Lives In a 3,500-square-foot Craftsman house in Santa Monica, Calif., that he shares with four employees and his younger sister.

Claim to Fame Mr. Kevitch is the founder of Brighten, an app that allows users to send compliments to friends anonymously, as a kind of antidote to social media bullying. “It feels good to make someone smile,” reads the app’s tagline. Mr. Kevitch said that more than 10 million messages have been sent by its one million users, many of whom are in high school and college.

Big Break The idea for Brighten came to Mr. Kevitch in 2013, when he was a junior at Bucknell University. A close friend, Oliver, died in a climbing accident, and his Facebook page was filled with positive remembrances. “I wished Oliver could’ve read those messages while he was still alive,” Mr. Kevitch said. He built the app, which he envisioned as a digital compliment box, with a programmer he met through the Kairos Society, an organization that brings young entrepreneurs together to solve the world’s problems. “I paid a couple thousand dollars; it was my life savings at the time,” Mr. Kevitch said. The app was released in 2014, and drew 5,000 users in its first three months.

Latest Project Mr. Kevitch just returned from Summit at the Sea (think Ted Talks meets Coachella on a cruise ship), where he shared ideas on entrepreneurship and wellness with the likes of Will.i.am and Wim Hof, the Dutch daredevil nicknamed “The Iceman.” “Wim was my favorite,” Mr. Kevitch said. “He thinks he has the cure for depression.” That cure? Take 25 deep breaths.

Next Thing Brighten is looking to team up with anti-bullying platforms including Kind Campaign, a nonprofit group that combats what it calls “girl on girl” bullying, and Be Cool Be Nice, a social media campaign started by Willow Smith and Kendall Jenner built around the hashtag #BeCoolBeNice and the idea that “Kindness is always in style.”

Humble Start Mr. Kevitch’s first brush with a compliment box came during high school, when he was a guest at a friend’s house. His little sister set down a compliment box, made from an old tissue box. “Write something nice about a family member,” she said. A few minutes later, she pulled out pieces of paper and read all the compliments. “It brightened everyone’s day,” Mr. Kevitch said.

An Open Letter To Middle School Girls

The Huffington Post

Go forth and be kind. And be real. But do not go forth and be perfect.

08/23/2016 
…just to make you laugh. 

…or almost middle school… or just left middle school ― you get my point.

Dear beauties,

Hey.

If you live somewhere where they don’t call it “middle school,” I’m talking about grades 6-8, and ages 11-14. Call it “intermediate school.” Call it “junior high.” Whatever you want to call it, it is ROUGH.

Having been through middle school and having taught middle school, I consider myself pretty proficient in how it works. Somehow, regardless of who you are and what you bring to the table, middle school is unkind to every single person who passes through it. My dad always said, “If we really wanted to win a war, we’d deploy a plane full of 12-year-old girls. That’d do it.” Oh man, how true that is.

Teaching middle school, I heard the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else.

Going through middle school, I said the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else. And had them said about me. And so does everyone.

Somehow, regardless of who you are and what you bring to the table, middle school is unkind to every single person who passes through it.

But here’s the big difference: When I was in middle school, there was no such thing as Instagram. No Snapchat. No Facebook, even. Social media hadn’t been invented yet.

In my own middle school experience, if someone was talking behind your back, they did it the old-fashioned way: when your back was turned. When you left the room. In the corners of the locker room at P.E. On (now-archaic) three-way-calls after school ― and, by the way, to make those calls, one had to ask, “Is Jennifer there?” to Jennifer’s mom. Because it was a landline. Because it was 2000.

But the game has changed, my friend. Just like YouTube videos or Vines, meanness can be viral. It spreads like a plague from one smartphone to the next, and before long, everyone has seen/read/heard/watched something horrible about you.

I honestly can’t imagine what that must be like.

As a 12-year-old human, I looked like this:

My mom and me.

Please take note of a few things. Braces, first of all. Unkempt baby hairs everywhere. Chubby cheeks. I don’t think I wore makeup yet. This picture happens to be from my 12th birthday. At this particular birthday party, we had cake and watched “Stepmom” on my back porch. It was awesome.

I didn’t worry about how cute my party was because I wasn’t going to post it on Instagram later. I didn’t worry about whether I had dark circles or wrinkles on my face or about how thin I looked. I wasn’t adding this photo to my Snapstory or editing it on Facetune or ANY. OF. THAT. SHIT.

(I said “shit.” Know what kids in middle school say when their parents aren’t listening? “Shit.” Everyone calm down.)

Just like YouTube videos or Vines, meanness can be viral. It spreads like a plague from one smartphone to the next.

If you’re in middle school today, the world is telling you that you aren’t good enough. The world has always told middle schoolers that. But now, the world has new technology to drive the point home. The fact that there is an app called “Perfect 365” in which you edit yourself to look, you know, perfect… 365 days a year… is terrible. The further fact that a new version of middle school mean-girl three-way calling is for someone to pose in a picture alongside a friend, then edit ONLY themselves, leaving the other person to appear (heaven forbid!) unedited, and therefore less attractive, is MIND-BOGGLING TO ME.

On social media, we curate a very particular version of ourselves. We like to choose our best, prettiest, funniest moments. EVERYONE does this. The problem is, it’s not terribly genuine. And in lots of cases, especially middle school, it just gives people another platform to say mean things about you.

Snapchat changes their filters all the time, but one that has stuck around is the “Beauty” filter. This filter… well, actually, let me just show you:

Filter-less.
Beautiful… according to Snapchat.

I tried to make the same face, but you get the point. The top photo is me, unfiltered, regular ol’ MC. Although I am doing what my husband calls my “social media face,” wherein I do not show my teeth and try to get the apples of my cheeks to pop.

(See? I, too, am ruined by all this crap.)

The second photo is me with the Snapchat’s “Beauty” filter ― you can see that my skin is suddenly glowing and pore-less, my eyebrows are perfectly manicured, my eyes are bigger, my nose is slenderized, my jawline and chin have been tapered and shaved down.

I have to tell you something, middle school girls:

This is all bullshit.

(I know, I said “shit” again.)

You know how self-conscious and insecure you feel? I have a secret: Every SINGLE person in middle school feels this way.

You know how self-conscious and insecure you feel? I have a secret: Every SINGLE person in middle school feels this way. Some days, you’ll mask this insecurity with confidence and it won’t bother you a bit. You’ll pursue the things you love with total and joyful abandon. These are awesome days.

Other days, on your less-than-lovely days, your insecurity will win. You will say something nasty about someone. You’ll pass around a photo of a girl in herunderwear ― a picture she sent her boyfriend in private ― and ruin that girl’s reputation. She might change schools because of it.

(A note here for all parents who may be reading this and think that middle schoolers sending each other sexually inappropriate pictures isn’t a Thing: It’s a Thing. Heads up.)

These will not be your finest moments. They are ugly moments. They’re moments that you’ll cringe about for years to come. Whatever the severity of the ugly moments ― be it idle gossip or going too far with a guy ― everyone will have them.

The idea that any of us ― ANY of us (Kylie Jenner included) ― leads a Perfect 360 life is a Perfect 360 lie.

Here it is:

Have you ever seen a sunset and pulled out your phone to try and photograph it, only to be totally disappointed that your picture isn’t reflecting how truly awesome what you’re looking at is?

That’s because reality is TOO BIG FOR OUR SCREENS. It’s just too big and grand. It won’t fit. And all that “perfection” stuff people are selling you? Not real. Not by a mile.

You’re too good to try and edit yourself down to what other people think you’re supposed to be.

The true, gritty, weird, kooky, off-beat, awkward, brace-face, chubby-cheeked, “does the robot at parties because you’re too self-conscious to dance” realness that is YOU is just so unbelievably fabulous that it doesn’t fit in a frame. It can’t be captured with 140 characters. It can’t be polished into submission on Facetune. You are too awesome for that. You are too good to be shoved into a tiny box with a giant lightbulb and a touchscreen. You’re too good to try and edit yourself down to what other people think you’re supposed to be.

So listen to me, because I’m older than you (I’ve been waiting years to say that, okay? I know it was annoying but just let me have it):

Go forth and be kind, and be weird, and be real. But do not go forth and be perfect. If I catch you attempting the myth of perfection, I will come to your house and scribble on you with permanent marker until you remember what I said about being kind and weird.

As you’re starting school, you’re going to feel a lot of pressure. Remember to join a club or a team, to be respectful to your parents and teachers, to stick by your friends. Remember how awful it felt when someone said that crappy thing about you, and try to not say a bunch of crappy things about other people ― in personor on the Internet. Hold on to the people who make you feel good about you. Be someone who says good things about others.

Whoever you are, go be that person. Unfiltered.

(And just for the record? You’re right. You can do that math with a calculator when you grow up and you don’t actually have to learn it. Don’t tell your parents I said so.)

Love,
Mary Catherine

Originally published at deephungerdeepgladness.com

How Pretty Little Liars Redeems the Pop-Culture Mean Girl

The Atlantic

 

ABC Family’s teen murder-thriller reminds viewers that there’s overlapping territory between “mean girls” and “nice girls”—and that cliques aren’t always forces for evil.
Netflix

I am a recovering mean girl. I was in a girl clique in high school, and I’ve regretted some of our habits (matching T-shirts, exclusive sleep-overs, incessant gossiping) ever since. That’s why binge-watching Pretty Little Liars over the last several months has been such a jarring experience: It made me remember why being in a clique was fun in the first place.

The show, which starts the second half of its fourth season on Tuesday evening, is among the most-watched series in ABC Family’s history: More than three million people tuned in for the summer finale in August. Nielsen SocialGuide reports that 637,000 people tweeted about the episode 1.9 million times. Liarsdoes particularly well with women aged 12 to 34, who made up about two-thirds of the audience for the summer finale; predictably, a good portion of that group was middle- and high-schoolers.

Actress Troian Bellisario plays Spencer,
clearly the best of the liars. (AP Photo)

Why has the show struck such a chord with younger women? For one thing, it’s hard to resist the murderous plot twists and “OMG moments,” as the show’s creator calls them. But the inner world of the show also has an irresistible draw: It invites viewers to feel like part of an unfolding drama, an intimate circle of secret-telling, a group of people like them. (My roommate and I are constantly arguing about which one of us is more like Spencer, the slightly prissy, overachieving brainiac who is clearly the best character in the series.) Much like being in a clique, watching the show makes you feel like you’re living an “OMG”-worthy life.

Admittedly, this is a little alarming, considering how twisted the world of Pretty Little Liars is: Four teenage best friends—Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer—drifted apart after the murder of their best friend, Allison, but they reunite when they all start getting untraceable texts from someone who calls herself (himself?) “A,” ostensibly standing for “Allison.” This mysterious stalker somehow knows all of their deepest secrets, and as the four friends try to solve the murder, “A” threatens to reveal all of their lies and misdeeds. For a group of 16- or 17-year-old girls, they’ve certainly committed their fair share of sins. Aria secretly dates her English teacher; Spencer breaks up her sister’s engagement when she makes out with the fiancé; Emily lies to her parents about getting into college; Hanna seems to steal compulsively. “A” mocks the girls as they endure one dramatic incident after another: Getting trapped in a wooden box with a dead body and almost pushed out of a moving train. Being drugged and framed for digging up Allison’s corpse. Having to stab and kill a stalker after being kidnapped and chased through the woods. And, obviously worst of all, breaking up with a whole roster of love interests who fall prey to A’s vengeful pranks. (Before she died, Allison was undoubtedly the craziest of them all: She once threw a bomb into a neighbor’s garage, blinding a girl.)

The name of the show teases viewers with one idea of what the characters are like: deceitful, annoyingly pretty, malicious. But what’s remarkable about Pretty Little Liars is that the four “liars” aren’t one-dimensional mean girls at all—they’re sometimes kind, sometimes thoughtless, often generous, and often judgmental. Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer fall into the murky territory between mean girls and stereotypical “nice girls” (think Rory Gilmore), which makes the show seem much more authentic.

The four friends clearly care about each other a lot, and for the most part, they act like decent people. Despite their shortcomings, the “liars” mostly try to treat others well: Hanna goes out of her way to befriend Lucas, the school’s yearbook editor and prototypical nerd. Aria offers to babysit when her boyfriend/former teacher discovers that he’s the father of a five-year-old kid. Spencer hawks her sister’s wedding ring to buy her broke boyfriend a truck so that he can get a job. (Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t count.)

But they also fall into some of the hallmark patterns of clique-y mean girls. They’re collectively suspicious of kids who strike them as weird—like Mona, the nerd-turned-prep who desperately wanted to be friends with Allison. They throw occasional dramatic fits, like when Emily tells off Jenna, the girl who Allison caused to go blind. And most potently, the girls are guilty of overwhelming groupthink about the other people in their lives—they are deeply convinced that a different person killed Allison in basically every other episode.

Surprisingly, though, in a time when bullies get vilified on the Internet and weirdkids are celebrated on television, Pretty Little Liars has turned a textbook girl clique into a group of heroines. Unlike Mean Girls, it’s not didactic—it doesn’t seem that viewers are supposed to conclude that the girls are mockably dumb or cruel for being part of an exclusive group. The show seems pretty self-aware, as the characters often poke fun at their own stereotypes. Yet it embraces the idea that girls can grow from having a tight-knit group of girlfriends—a somewhat radical stance for a post-Mean Girls world.

Pretty Little Liars’ portrayal of how girls talk to each other and think about their social experiences seems authentic, rather than defiant or designed to teach viewers a lesson: The girls are highly sensitive to one another’s feelings, and each is constantly checking on how the other three are coping with the various dramatic episodes in their lives. They build intimacy by trading stories about the minutiae of their daily lives, listening patiently and enthusiastically to even the smallest of their friends’ stories. And while it may seem mean-spirited to delineate a clear “us” and “them,” their relationships are strengthened by knowing exactly who their best friends are and aren’t.

The show also sidesteps stereotypes about high-school romance and its seemingly antagonistic role in relation to friendship. The girls are neither “too chaste” nor “too slutty,” neither too commitment-oriented nor too hookup-oriented. They churn through a lot of boys and girls—and how awesome is it that the show includes a non-stereotypical lesbian?—but one thing stays constant: Boyfriends and girlfriends are second-string to best friends. By later seasons, a few of the beaus band together to help the girls battle “A,” but their social lives revolve around the four friends. The “liars” are a magnetic vortex that reorients all social interactions toward themselves.

Sometimes, girls are mean. Sometimes girls lie. Much of the time, they’re also decent, likeable people.

Jealousy, of course, abounds: All of the characters seem to jump to nefarious conclusions any time they see a significant other talking to someone of the opposite sex. Relationships end quickly and a little unreasonably, although often under the pressure of A’s bullying. And, admittedly, there’s an element of glibness in how the three straight girls deal with their boyfriends, which could be characterized (perhaps unfairly) as a “pretty girl” way of treating boys: Hanna leaves her boyfriend alone during most of their homecoming dance because she’s out sleuthing for “crucial” clues to Allison’s murder; she doesn’t even show up to get crowned homecoming queen. Aria flakes on her boyfriend/former high-school teacher while they’re at a birthday party, a not-so-great way to thank the 24-year-old for showing up at social function for high schoolers.

Individually, though, these romantic relationships seem authentic—in both good and bad ways. The couples fight sometimes; implausibly, one of Emily’s girlfriends even tries to drown her—and that’s before they get together. For a show so focused on girls, it’s wonderful that the boys aren’t one-dimensional—they talk about their emotional conflicts openly and often. And perhaps that’s just another part of the slightly uncomfortable believability of the show: It captures what kinds of damage emotionally immature teenage girls can inflict, but without demonizing them.

None of this is to say that all gossip is good, that all pretty girls are in cliques, or that all dramatic girls deserve a break. But Pretty Little Liars reminds viewers that girls form cliques for a reason: They’re comforting, supportive, and fun. In a perfect world, all exclusive in-groups would be open, welcoming communities.

But the world isn’t perfect, and neither are the “liars”—that’s what makes them believable. Sometimes, girls are mean. Sometimes, girls lie. And much of the time, those same girls are also decent, likeable people who care about doing the right thing. It’s a sly trick for the show to offer up a defense of cliques in the guise of a murder-thriller, but it’s also smart—this layer adds depth to a show that’s all about evoking the “OMG.”

Is it Bullying Or Drama?

The Huffington Post

Here’s an interesting article on bullying vs. drama.  At CSH, we work hard to have all be responsible for Goal IV, the building of community as a Christian value, as we inspire the girls to address examples of unkind behavior.  While it is most effective for the person who is receiving the negative treatment to stand-up for herself, we are also inspiring the bystander to be brave and confront the issue.  We are also encouraging the girls to reach out for help, when needed – “never worry alone.”

Posted: 11/13/2013

bullying or drama

Acting like a jerk is one thing, being cruel is another. Knowing the difference matters. Bullying is… a repeated pattern of harmful or rejecting behavior that occurs over a period of time, leaving you feeling excluded, isolated, or humiliated on a large scale. Your life feels seriously interrupted, and you can’t see an end in sight.

Drama is… the everyday difficulties that all teenagers experience, including relationship rifts with friends or people you’re dating, onetime instances of classmates being jerks, and conflicts that eventually blow over. People involved aren’t victims or perpetrators—they’re just part of the social world where mean things sometimes happen.

By Melissa Walker You missed a key shot in the basketball game last night, and this morning at school, there’s a Post-it on your locker that says “Choker!” Then in math class, two teammates say you’d better step it up at practice, and kids whisper as you walk by in the hall. You feel kicked around and can’t wait for the day to be over—but are you a victim of bullying?

“If bullying is every single mean thing that happens, then there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” says Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. But recognizing the difference between true bullying and everyday drama can help you brush off the little things, keep situations from escalating, and help you realize when something serious is going on—so you can step in and get help for yourself or a fellow student.

Case 1: Gym Intimidation Paul dreads going to phys ed. He’s always been small and skinny, but now that he’s in high school, the difference between him and other guys his age seems huge. A few of his classmates have started calling him “bird legs,” saying that his chest is “concave” as he changes in the locker room. They also take every opportunity to knock into him or push him down during class. It’s so brutal that Paul would rather serve detention than go to gym.

Bullying or Drama? If this happened once, says Jill Weber, a clinical psychologist in McLean, Virginia, it would just be drama. But since Paul is facing ongoing rejection and humiliation, it’s definitely bullying.

What to do: Paul could try being more assertive—kids who stand up for themselves don’t get bullied as much. “Direct confrontation is the bully’s kryptonite, because deep down they’re scared and vulnerable too,” says Weber. But this is physical intimidation, and if it gets bad enough, Paul should tell an adult. Since the gym teacher doesn’t seem to be stepping in, finding another teacher Paul trusts is key.

Case 2: Out Of Line… Online Jess didn’t think anything of it when she texted David, her friend Laura’s crush, about the math homework. But when Jess went on Facebook later, her heart dropped. Laura and their friend Allie had created a “We Hate Jess” page, where they accused Jess of moving in on David. Jess’s eyes filled with tears. How could her friends post such hateful comments?

Bullying or Drama? It’s both. Laura and Allie feel they’ve been wronged, so they’re not just targeting Jess for no reason. That’s drama. But “the Internet has changed bullying,” says Bazelon. When the drama between Jess and her friends goes public, anyone can join in—and that makes it a bullying situation.

What to do: Bazelon notes that even friends sometimes act meanly. But as tempting as it is, Jess shouldn’t respond online. Talking in person, on the other hand, is much more effective, because it takes the drama down a notch. Jess should contact Laura and Allie, or have a neutral friend do so, and then hear them out. Although it’ll be hard, asking her friends why they did this and telling them how it has hurt her is important. “They will all probably be friends again,” says Bazelon, “so Jess should try and talk it out.”

Case 3: Is mean on the menu? It’s lunch period on Zach’s first day at a new school, and he faces the cafeteria with absolute dread. His heart pounds in his chest as he walks slowly around the room, hoping that someone will look up at him and smile. Finally, he sees an open seat at a table with a group of girls and guys, so he asks if he can sit down. One girl stares at him and pushes the chair into the table. “No,” she says. “There’s no room.” Ouch.

Bullying or Drama? Although that girl at the table is definitely a jerk, she’d probably do this to anyone who isn’t part of her inner circle. So unless she continues to harass Zach in some way, it’s a onetime brush with drama, says Weber.

What to do: The cafeteria is a classic setting for this type of popularity-war drama, says Danah Boyd, author of the upcoming book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens—it’s like a big stage where new kids are in the spotlight, and where mean kids can get the attention they crave. The best thing to do is to bite your lip, turn around and find a seat on the other side of the room. Sure, this drama stings, but remember: It’s probably not personal—and it’s temporary.

How to stand up to drama and bullying: If you see someone caught in a cycle of drama or bullying, there are lots of ways to help. Here’s how to step up and step in.

1. Lend an ear Often it’s hard to intervene in the moment, but letting people who are struggling with bullying or drama know that they’re not alone—that you get it—can have an enormous positive impact. If you don’t know them well, even just asking “Are you OK?” can make them feel less distressed.

2. Find help If the problem is more than you can handle, be a friend—even if you don’t know the victim well—and suggest that they talk to an adult. Ask if they have someone they trust, or steer them toward someone you know. Boyd notes that just “telling a trusted adult” is kind of random—you want to choose someone who you think can really help deal with what’s going on.

3. CONFRONT the troublemaker If you have a lot of confidence, be a role model and an upstander by defending the victim when an incident occurs. Make it clear that you don’t agree with what’s going on. Try saying something like, “You’re being cruel, and it needs to stop.” Then walk away with the victim and get out your superhero cape, because that’s an awesome move!

If Your Child Was Bullied, When Did You Intervene and When Did You Stay Out?

The New York Times

Don’t forget our CSH mantra of “never worry alone.”

Rick Runion/The Ledger, via Associated Press A fund-raiser in Lakeland, Fla., for the family of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied for over a year.

By MICHAEL WINERIP Published: October 31, 2013

It is a very painful and scary thing for parents to learn that their child is being bullied. Though my four — now young adults — were relatively popular and athletic kids, I watched them go through bullying several times. It was one of the the harder problems I faced as a dad, and it’s the topic we are asking our readers to discuss this week: Do I intervene on behalf of my children or hold back and let them work out the problem themselves?

At times, it wasn’t until after the fact that I learned they were being bullied. And I think that’s probably true more often than not — our kids go through these things and never tell us. I know that was the case for me when I was a kid, as I wrote in a parenting column several years back. For me, the most painful bullying I suffered was emotional, not physical. When I was in junior high I was frozen out by my three closest friends, who, one day, for no apparent reason, stopped talking to me and never did again. When that happened, the last thing I wanted was for my parents to get involved. I feared if they did, I would be ostracized even more, as a little baby who needed Mommy and Daddy to fight my battles.

It would be nice if things worked out the way they do in those Hollywood blockbusters starring Bruce Willis. When one of my sons was being pushed around by a bigger kid in middle school, he popped the kid back, and that was the end of it. While I wasn’t aware of that situation until afterward, there have been times I have counseled them to do just that: hit the jerk back and shut him up. I know that a lot of readers will be horrified by that advice, and I also know that it is a lot easier to do in elementary school. By high school, teenagers can inflict terrible physical injury on one another.

In the case of my four, as was true for me, the most painful bullying was being frozen out or taunted. When I tried to discuss it with them, they didn’t want to, and the more I tried, the angrier they grew. Holding back caused me considerable anguish as a parent, but I did, and the problem was apparently worked out over time — all four are well-adjusted young adults. They have replaced the friends who turned on them with true friends. Which raises the question, when we get involved are we trying to save our kids or is it more about making ourselves feel better?

There are, of course, a million forms of bullying, and sometimes the worst thing adults can do is look the other way. In the most awful cases, we’ve seen teenagers use social media in such cruel ways that it has led to a classmate committing suicide.

The hopeful news is that in my lifetime, schools and law enforcement have become much more aware of the dangers of bullying and the need to be proactive. The bad news is it is still not enough.

I know from my own reporting that some of the cruelest bullying targets teenagers simply because they are gay, particularly boys who are effeminate.

Our question this week for our readers of Motherlode and Booming is not so much, “Should parents intervene or not intervene?” It’s, “If you think your child is being bullied, when and how should you intervene and when should you stay out of it?”

We’d like to hear your stories of how you handled your children’s bullying situations and how things worked out. We’d also welcome questions readers might have on problems they’re struggling with. Please share your thoughts in the comments section, and I’ll round up some of the most interesting answers and post them on Motherlode and Booming next Friday. Then it will be the New Parent’s turn to choose a topic.

Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies

The New York Times

A disturbing article about a middle school aged girl in Florida.  A good reminder to have conversations with your daughters about their use of social media, especially ask.fm, Instagram and Snapchat.  All are invited to attend Middle School Technology Night on Monday, September 16 at 7 pm for more information on the topic.

Brian Blanco for The New York Times

A memorial for 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick has sprouted at the abandoned cement plant in Lakeland, Fla., where she committed suicide.

By 
Published: September 13, 2013 723 Comments

MIAMI — The clues were buried in her bedroom. Before leaving for school on Monday morning, Rebecca Ann Sedwick had hidden her schoolbooks under a pile of clothes and left her cellphone behind, a rare lapse for a 12-year-old girl.

Rebecca Sedwick

Lance Speere for The New York Times

Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, said she had no idea that her daughter, who died this week, was being cyberbullied by about 15 middle-school children, a problem that first arose and was addressed last year.

Inside her phone’s virtual world, she had changed her user name on Kik Messenger, a cellphone application, to “That Dead Girl” and delivered a message to two friends, saying goodbye forever. Then she climbed a platform at an abandoned cement plant near her home in the Central Florida city of Lakeland and leaped to the ground, the Polk County sheriff said.

In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships.

For more than a year, Rebecca, pretty and smart, was cyberbullied by a coterie of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself, her mother said. The Polk County sheriff’s office is investigating the role of cyberbullying in the suicide and considering filing charges against the middle-school students who apparently barraged Rebecca with hostile text messages. Florida passed a law this year making it easier to bring felony charges in online bullying cases.

Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media,” Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said at a news conference this week.

Along with her grief, Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, faces the frustration of wondering what else she could have done. She complained to school officials for several months about the bullying, and when little changed, she pulled Rebecca out of school. She closed down her daughter’s Facebook page and took her cellphone away. She changed her number. Rebecca was so distraught in December that she began to cut herself, so her mother had her hospitalized and got her counseling. As best she could, Ms. Norman said, she kept tabs on Rebecca’s social media footprint.

It all seemed to be working, she said. Rebecca appeared content at her new school as a seventh grader. She was gearing up to audition for chorus and was considering slipping into her cheerleading uniform once again. But unknown to her mother, Rebecca had recently signed on to new applications — ask.fm, and Kik and Voxer — which kick-started the messaging and bullying once again.

“I had never even heard of them; I did go through her phone but didn’t even know,” said Ms. Norman, 42, who works in customer service. “I had no reason to even think that anything was going on. She was laughing and joking.”

Sheriff Judd said Rebecca had been using these messaging applications to send and receive texts and photographs. His office showed Ms. Norman the messages and photos, including one of Rebecca with razor blades on her arms and cuts on her body. The texts were full of hate, her mother said: “Why are you still alive?” “You’re ugly.”

One said, “Can u die please?” To which Rebecca responded, with a flash of resilience, “Nope but I can live.” Her family said the bullying began with a dispute over a boy Rebecca dated for a while. But Rebecca had stopped seeing him, they said.

Rebecca was not nearly as resilient as she was letting on. Not long before her death, she had clicked on questions online that explored suicide. “How many Advil do you have to take to die?”

In hindsight, Ms. Norman wonders whether Rebecca kept her distress from her family because she feared her mother might take away her cellphone again.

“Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

It is impossible to be certain what role the online abuse may have played in her death. But cyberbullying experts said cellphone messaging applications are proliferating so quickly that it is increasingly difficult for parents to keep pace with their children’s complex digital lives.

“It’s a whole new culture, and the thing is that as adults, we don’t know anything about it because it’s changing every single day,” said Denise Marzullo, the chief executive of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, who works with the schools there on bullying issues.

No sooner has a parent deciphered Facebook or Twitter or Instagram than his or her children have migrated to the latest frontier. “It’s all of these small ones where all this is happening,” Ms. Marzullo said.

In Britain, a number of suicides by young people have been linked to ask.fm, and online petitions have been started there and here to make the site more responsive to bullying. The company ultimately responded this year by introducing an easy-to-see button to report bullying and saying it would hire more moderators.

“You hear about this all the time,” Ms. Norman said of cyberbullying. “I never, ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”

Questions have also been raised about whether Rebecca’s old school, Crystal Lake Middle School, did enough last year to help stop the bullying; some of it, including pushing and hitting, took place on school grounds. The same students also appear to be involved in sending out the hate-filled online messages away from school, something schools can also address.

Nancy Woolcock, the assistant superintendent in charge of antibullying programs for Polk County Schools, said the school received one bullying complaint from Rebecca and her mother in December about traditional bullying, not cyberbullying. After law enforcement investigated, Rebecca’s class schedule was changed. Ms. Woolcock said the school also has an extensive antibullying campaign and takes reports seriously.

But Ms. Norman said the school should have done more. Officials told her that Rebecca would receive an escort as she switched classes, but that did not happen, she said.

Rebecca never boarded her school bus on Monday morning. She made her way to the abandoned Cemex plant about 10 minutes away from her modest mobile home; the plant was a place she had used as a getaway a few times when she wanted to vanish. Somehow, she got past the high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, which is now a memorial, with teddy bears, candles and balloons. She climbed a tower and then jumped.

“Don’t ignore your kids,” Ms. Norman said, “even if they seem fine.”

Lance Speere contributed reporting from Lakeland, Fla., and Alan Blinder from Atlanta.

Feeling geeky? ‘Awkward Years Project’ shows kids it gets better

Today.com

A. Pawlowski TODAY contributor

Aug. 23, 2013 at 8:03 AM ET

Awkward Years Project

Courtesy Awkward Years Project
Merilee Allred was the first person to post a photo on the Awkward Years Project, a blog she launched to show how great people turn out. She is holding a picture of herself when she was 11.

When braces, glasses, acne and mean kids rule your world, it’s hard to imagine you’ll one day emerge as a confident, alluring adult.

Anyone who has ever gone through a geeky, self-conscious stage as an adolescent – and that’s most of us – probably hides any photographic evidence of those unfortunate hairdos, nerdy clothes and gangly bodies.

But Salt Lake City, Utah, graphic designer Merilee Allred — a self-described “queen of the nerds” when she was in school — wants you to dig those pictures out and show kids it gets better.

“I was bullied and teased over how I looked,” Allred, 35, told TODAY Moms when recalling her tween and teen years.

“I was probably one of the tallest in my class so I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was clumsy, and because I was shy and very quiet, I couldn’t stand up for myself so I think I was just an easy target.”

Allred’s family moved frequently for her dad’s job, so she was often the new kid at school trying to fit in when everyone had already established their circles of friends. She remembers girls not wanting to let her into their groups, pushing her around and calling her names.

It’s been more than 20 years since that painful experience, but when a friend couldn’t believe she had a hard time in school and demanded “proof,” Allred realized many people have hidden scars from school.

So she started the Awkward Years Project, a blog that invites adults to pose with photos of themselves as kids, tweens and teens to show how they turned out. The results are often startling — with girls turning into stunning women and boys becoming confident men.

photo

Courtesy Awkward Years Project
photo

Courtesy Awkward Years Project

Allred emphasizes the project is not about boasting “look how much better looking I got,” but gives people the chance to take pride in who they are and how they survived those years.

She herself was mortified about showing her picture, which she has kept mostly out of sight up until now, but hopes sharing it will mean helping others. She’s already heard from teenagers who told her the blog has given them hope.

Allred wishes she could tell her younger self, and all the kids going through a similar experience, that it does get better. She wants teens to know they are great people in the making.

“Try not to let the bullies get to (you),” Allred said.

“I just wish I knew that growing up because I never really thought about what I would be like as an adult and how these bullies and popularity contests don’t matter anymore.”

photo

Courtesy Awkward Years Project
photo

Courtesy Awkward Years Project

Rachel Simmons at the “Girls Symposium” – October 17 in Trumbull, CT

Here’s some information on an upcoming local symposium on girls featuring Rachel Simmons.  Many members of the Middle School faculty will attend; perhaps some parents would also like to attend.

 

FUND FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS’
2ND ANNUAL GIRLS SYMPOSIUM

Keynote Speaker
Rachel Simmons


Keynote speaker Rachel Simmons, is aNew York Times best-selling author, educator, and coach helping girls and young women grow into emotionally intelligent and assertive adults.

She will share best practices on empowering girls with confidence and courage.

The first 100 registrants will receive a free copy of The Curse of the Good Girl.

Thursday, October 17
Marriott Merritt Parkway, Trumbull

Join more than 200 educators, social service providers, parents, school resource officers and more at the Second Annual Girls Symposium.

You’ll experience expert-led presentations and workshops specially designed to help today’s girls and young women.

You’ll learn strategies you can apply in the following areas:

  • Teen dating violence and sexual assault
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Empowering girls to take on leadership roles
  • Body image and self-esteem
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Fostering Collaboration among girls
  • And more

WHO SHOULD ATTEND

The Girls Symposium is ideal for:

    • Educators
    • Social Service professionals
    • Faith-based leaders
    • Therapists
    • School Resource Officers
    • Parents and guardians
    • Anyone who works with girls

REGISTER ONLINE

Registration is $75 per person and includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials.

Space is limited to the first 200 attendees, so register online today.

You can also print, complete and mail your registration form and check.

SYMPOSIUM DETAILS

Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Location: Trumbull Marriott Merritt Parkway
180 Hawley Lane
Trumbull, Conn.
Driving Directions 

INFORMATION

Tricia Hyacinth
Program & Development Associate
The Fund for Women and Girls
thyacinth@fccfoundation.org
203.750.3223

 

 

A Bullied 11 Year Old Speaks Out

Gallery

The Huffington Post [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/65313147 w=500&h=281] <p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/65313147″>Caine Stands Up</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/thebullyproject”>The Bully Project</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p> This bullied 11-year-old has a powerful message for his school board: “You have the power to make the changes.” In recently promoted footage from … Continue reading