4 Ways to Help Your Daughter Break the Silence About Bullying
By Katie Hurly, LCSW
“When your friends cut you out…it’s the worst.
It’s like you’re totally alone. So when they let you back in, you take it, even
if you know they’re not that nice and are really mean to other girls.”
-A sixth grade girl
There’s a culture of
silence in modern day girlhood, and this silence can be devastating for many
young girls. Girls tell me that they avoid speaking up about their experiences
with bullying for a variety of reasons:
They feel alone
They fear they will be
teased for talking about it
They fear the bullying
will get worse if they tell
They still hope they
can get back into the group
They don’t think
anyone will believe them or understand
That’s a short list.
Every girl is different, and every girl has her own reasons for participating
in the culture of silence. But one thing is for certain: Silence isn’t helping
anyone. In fact, silence contributes to the anxiety, depression, isolation,
feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and suicidal thoughts that can occur
when girls are on the receiving end of bullying and/or cyberbullying.
Speaking up helps. But
speaking up doesn’t have to mean going public. Speaking up can mean talking to
a small group or trusted friends, or even just one. Every little bit helps.
When girls share their
stories, not for the sole purpose of getting the other girl in trouble but to
help another girl or to vent her own emotions, they take steps toward healing.
They also open the door to difficult conversations that just might help another
girl in similar circumstances.
Breaking the silence
inspires hope and healing. When I work with groups of girls, we talk about a
lot of the everyday stressors of modern girlhood. Without fail, “mean girl”
behavior comes up. It’s not necessarily that each girl in the room has
experienced bullying, but each girl knows that it’s something to worry about.
They’ve heard the stories. They know it’s out there.
But an interesting
thing happens when the first girl dares to share her story. The other girls
move just a little bit closer. They ask questions. They rally around her. They
empathize. And then they begin to share their stories and their worries. They
break the culture of silence, if only for that session, and they work together
to find solutions.
4 Ways to help girls talk it out
to the surface
The best way to end
the stigma and break through the culture of silence is to normalize talking
about bullying and cyberbullying. Girls know it’s happening. Parents know it’s
happening. Don’t wait for an incident to occur to break ground on these tough
topics, make them part of your regular conversations.
I can’t tell you how
many parents ask me to avoid these topics in my groups because they don’t want
their girls to worry. Girls are already worrying about it. When we silence it,
we contribute to the culture of silence. Bring it to the surface by engaging in
regular discussions about bullying and cyberbullying at the dinner table, when
you’re taking a family walk, or when you’re just hanging out doing nothing.
It can be
overwhelming, and triggering, to share your whole story. Some girls avoid
talking about their experiences because it’s just too painful. I find that when
girls know that they can share “little bits” at a time and start and stop as
needed, the cloud of hopelessness that overwhelms them dissipates somewhat. It
can take years to heal from the psychological impact of bullying. Trying to get
it all out at once is difficult at best.
One thing that I find
works well with girls is to give them the “time out” option. If they become
overwhelmed with emotion, they make the hand signal for time out. That’s my cue
to lead a deep breathing or mindfulness exercise to help her work through the
Parenting myths lead
us to believe that tween and teen girls are constantly pushing their parents
away, but research shows that girls actually want help from their parents. They
just don’t want every problem solved, and they don’t want to discuss everything
the minute they get in the car.
Both literature and
movies provide ample opportunity to discuss the many stressors girls currently
face, including bullying and cyberbullying. Read together (or, at the very
least, read the same book side-by-side) and initiate regular movie dates. Talk
about the peer issues that arise and listen to how your daughter processes
these issues. Resist the urge to come up with quick fixes. Instead, ask
questions and listen as she works through the answers.
In some of my groups,
I give girls little signs that say, “been there.” When one girl shares a story
about something hard, the other girls can choose to raise their “been there”
signs. They are then given the opportunity to share their stories or make a comment.
These little connections, even if the “been there” girls don’t actually share
their own stories, help girls feel less alone in the world.