A couple of years ago I wrote a major piece on middle school bullying for Brain, Child magazine; a piece that I understand was used by a number of psychologists in dealing with the rising tide of girl-on-girl bullying. In the article, I talked a lot about the legacy of meanness, how it can easily be passed down from mother to child: sometimes a woman who was bullied as a girl will teach her daughter to be the one who bullies; just as often, a girl who was the mean girl will feel guilty for being so and may make her daughter more passive than is good for her.
I cited some groundbreaking books on the subject including the now six-year-old Queen Bees and Wannabees. I also talked about the then new book called Mean Girls Grown Up and about bad parental behavior in general that was no help to young girls going through puberty and trying to figure things out for themselves. And I revealed in public for the first time the agony of being bullied as a seventh grader. Had I had even a smidgen of the resources that girls and their mothers do today, perhaps I might have saved myself some pain. At the least, I would not have been so reluctant to speak about the issue for nearly 40 years.
But, of course, even with all the literature, the problem continues.
A new book, Girls Against Girls, is another in the line up, but this one, so easy to read and accessible, even to very young girls, breaks down the issues and the solutions in a way that might just get through to both the bullied and the bullies. At the least, it should help those going through bullying find the tools to empower (I know, I hate that word, too, but it fits here) themselves to break out of what can be an extraordinarily painful time.
Girls Against Girls: Why We are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change is sort of a self-help manual for any girl caught up in the cycle of envy, gossip, bitterness, and meanness that grabs hold of most pre-teens and teens as they navigate the waters of puberty. Author Bonnie Burton does a damned good job of weaving common sense, real life situations, good advice, and quotes from artists, rock stars, and writers into an appealing whole that is a very quick read with a lasting impact.
She divides the book into six sections: "Why We Hurt Each Other," "Methods of Our Meanness," "Bearing the Brunt of It," "Calling in Reinforcements," "Stopping the Cycle," and "Teaming Up Instead of Tearing Each Other Down," and at the end she offers a good set of resources. Her “whys" include science (the fact that the teenage brain is still growing, hormones) the way we are raised, and competitiveness; the "methods" include boyfriend stealing, gossiping, the silent treatment; "the brunt" tells you how to cope, if you can; "calling in the reinforcements" tells you what to do if you can't. You get it. It’s all spelled out nice and neat, but it’s not pat. Burton has done her homework.
Let the moms and dads read the longer, harder stuff. This book is for their daughters. And I highly recommend that parents buy a copy for each of their girls aged 10 and above. The sooner the better.