Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh No, She Di-int (And Oh No, She Won't)

Emme, Marlowe & Serena (Picture by Marlowe)
Last night, I snuggled up to Serena before bedtime and asked what was new.  We talked about gymnastics and her teacher and the 4th grade trip to Sacramento in the spring.  Then I remembered that Raf told me she'd mentioned having "a thing" with one of her new friends at PE -- the friend called Serena a "show-off" when she did a cartwheel -- so I asked her about it.

Now, every day when I walk Gibby around the neighborhood, I try to listen to a podcast and yesterday I happened upon a recent one on This American Life called "Frenemies," detailing how we befriend -- and maintain relationships with -- people who are overly competitive, push and pull us, and are generally abusive in ways that are both subtle and overt.  One surprising detail, mentioned at the very beginning of the podcast, was a scientific study that found that nearly half of all of the subjects' relationships caused great stress and anxiety, even the relationships that the subjects had with people that they love (BFFs, family members).  The study charted the blood pressure of its subjects over the course of three days throughout EVERY interaction they had with other people.  The finding? That blood pressure rose much higher when they interacted with "frenemies" than with actual enemies or people they just didn't like.  Hmmm....

So, back to Serena... 

I asked her about the incident and she sort of shrugged and recounted a few other times in which the girl (I'll call her Annie) and another one (let's call her Betty) were blatantly unkind.  Rather than being shocked or upset or crying, she was methodical and observant.  She told me about an incident a week ago in which she was sitting at a lunch table with the girls and Betty told Serena to go sit at the other end to "block the view of an ugly guy."  Serena thought she was joking, but after a few minutes, she did so.  Annie, who is also sort of new to this sort of mean-girl behavior, finally said, "Serena, come back and sit with us." But Betty told her not to, which confused Serena, especially if Annie and Betty claimed to be her "friends."  

After I considered the situation a little more -- and keeping in mind that I could dismiss it as "girl behavior," which I've heard time and again, but which rankles my core because I disagree with it -- I finally told her, "That's bullying.  It may not seem like it and I doubt Annie and Betty understand that they're doing it, but now you know it and you can choose not to be a part of it."  Serena, unfortunately, has had some experience with girl bullying, and I knew that word would inspire her to see the situation more clearly.  After I said that, Serena told me there is another girl in her class who was the "slave" of yet another girl... And it was clear to me that Serena knew what that meant and why it was pitiful.

The good thing is that these girls are not the only game in town.  There are several other sweet girls in Serena's class and these two may actually wise up and get tired of their own in-fighting and be sweet again, too.  But that's not my concern.  My concern is raising a strong, confident woman who does not sway to the whims of a weaker person.

And so I've decided not to even let this moment slide.  After school, I'm going to mention it to Serena's teacher, kindly, not asking for anything, just allowing myself to share an observation that may help keep other girls from wasting their self-esteem.



  1. I love that you're being so proactive about it. I'm curious about the teacher's response!

  2. April, I did talk to the teacher after school and she was utterly open to beginning a dialogue within the classroom about all the various ways in which we (the royal "we") put other people down. She said she used to do a "put-down funeral" to lay it all to rest and that maybe it's time to do one, just to reset their 4th grade minds toward academics. The main thing is that I felt heard and understood... and so did Serena. We'll see how this story progresses. I know that you have had some experience with this sort of thing and that may be why I'm so dead-set on being as proactive as possible, without taking Serena's own power or voice away. Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Thank God for nice and sweet girls like us (and ours)! We gotta stick together, and hope our girls do too!