Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Heathers, or Why Middle School Sucks

I don't write often about O because she's 14 and an anomaly in that she's a very nice, very fun teen-ager. There's very little drama most of the time. She does her homework, she helps out around the house (ok, I have to prod her, but still - she does it) and she occasionally makes pancakes for the whole family. You have to love a kid who helps feed her mother's maple syrup addiction. In short, she's a good kid.

This year, she's in the 8th grade and it has sucked from the start. She's struggling with some of her classes, but the biggest problem is a couple of girls who just won't leave her alone. Two of these girls were her friends but suddenly turned on her around October, for no reason that she can think of. These two, whom I shall call Heather, became friends with a couple of girls who are troublemakers. The troublemakers, Celine and Sarah, have, between the two of them, given one girl a concussion and broke another kid's finger. And now all four of them seem to be going after O and one of her friends.

These girls haven't physically harmed O, but their words and actions have caused O a lot of stress. They call O a slut, they get in her face, daring her to hit one of them and they glare and stare and whisper about her in the halls and in the classroom. At one point, it was so bad that O was losing sleep and throwing up because of it.

Of course I've talked to the school and they have reacted, to a certain extent. But some of this is still going on and O is at the point of giving up. And to be perfectly honest, O and her friend are very dramatic, so I'm unsure how much of this is going on (especially the glaring) and how much is O making mountains. I am not doubting her stories, not at all, and neither is the school, but I think it's gotten to the point that if one of these girls sneezes, O takes it as them being mean to her.

I'm not sure what else to do. The school has spoken with the other girls' parents, they've all been spoken to by the guidance counselor and by the vice-principal and I've had an on-going discussion with the same v-p about it. O has filled out bullying reports but she claims that nothing else is being done. I honestly don't know what else can be done at this point. The school seems to be taking the position of "We can't do anything unless/until one of them physically harms you." I am not too eager for it to get to that point, although O told me the other day that she'd rather one of them do something than keep going thru this stress. I can see her point. '

The mama in me would like nothing more than to go up to each of these girls and light into them, but I won't. I just wish I knew how to make this stop.


George said...

Total Heathers. I hate that. I have not had too much drama on my daughters side since she is still in 5th but George had an issue in 7th about a dude teasing him and stuff.

It's different for guys but I told George that he needs to steal his thunder. If he trying to make people laugh at you, you do something to make them laugh at you but on YOUR terms.

I think he called George a dumb Mexican and so George said, "Cho wanna Taco Bell? TACOS por Todos!"

All his friends laughed, the dude looked like the douche he is and George was funny guy who got high five from his friends, most of who are hispanic.

I dunno, making people laugh seems to work for me too.

Not sure if that helps at all.

Anonymous said...

Too bad you can't have O and her friend start a teen suicide trend and pick the Heathers as targets. Oh the humanity.

(Sorry, you picked one of my favorite movies to compare it to, and oh, it is so like that movie. Without the death.)

I had my Heathers experience in grade school, and yes, it sucked. And it only got better when I moved to middle school and the little clique broke up due to geography. And then the clique leader and I ended up being very good friends when we both grew up some, and she once apologized to me.

It only takes a little hive mind and one mean girl to turn the wicked on one or two innocents. I remember in that movie StepMom (an old movie, with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon) that the stepmom was teaching the teenager how to handle bullies and it was funny. I wouldn't necessarily direct O into something harmful, but is there a way that she could loudly point out so that other kids outside these Heathers and O's circle know what's going on? Maybe outside peer pressure would shut up the Heathers.

Then again, you could always spike their 'hangover drink' with some drano.

Green-Eyed Momster said...

I think that girls can be worse than boys when it comes to being bullies. I'm fuming while I write this because I SO hate mean people but you HAVE TO believe your daughter. Take it seriously!! Never underestimate the feelings of a girl. My Oldest (who is also 14 now) ran away from home after Youngest was born because she wasn't getting enough attention. The Sheriff brought her home after she had been missing for about 45 minutes but it was awful. Girls are serious and dramatic and you have to believe her when she tells you it's bad.

I might send you an email when I feel better but I'm upset after reading this.

I want you to read the comments on this blog. I don't usually leave other sites in blog comments so you know this is important to me.
Check out Ami Mental's blog posts on bullying. Please?

Then maybe sign O up for Karate lessons. I'm serious!!


Heidi said...

Middle School does suck. I was in it and then I taught it. I liked it better from the teaching perspective, but it was still tough.

This won't necessarily help the immediate issue at hand, but the book "Reviving Ophelia" is a really excellent book about middle school/high school girls and the dynamics that take place between and for them. I can't speak highly enough of the book. I think all parents - even parents of only boys - should read it. The subculture among teenage girls is truly astounding and can be very damaging.

I hope she finds a way through it and thrives in the midst of it!

Melissa said...

((HUGS)) to you and to O! I hate how mean kids, especially girls, can be!!

I had a similar situation happen to me when I was in Jr. High. The group I hung with decided randomly to ostracize one of the girls, then another, then me. I was feeling pretty crappy most of the time, but they never THREATENED me. Oddly enough, the two girls that RAN that group are now two of my very best friends. Weird, but true.

I sure hope they find something more fun to do then harass O. Sounds like they have too much free time and not enough things to occupy their minds!

Stomper Girl said...

That sounds awful. Poor O.

Maureen Fitzgerald said...

Ugh - that sucks. Unfortunately it's the part of middle/high school that never seems to change.

If the school has a "bully report", I'm guessing they have a bullying policy. I'd be interested to see it and see 1)how they define bullying - should not have to be physical to receive action and 2) what the consequences are supposed to be. It sounds like the school should be doing more.

If not, Christian Slater is still around....somewhere.

Unknown said...

That stinks!

I agree that the book Reviving Ophelia is supposed to be awesome!

Josi said...

I had an issue in 7th grade that sounds very similar. It got to the point that the vp finally told my sister and that he would like us to get into a fight with the group of girls and make sure there were witnesses because then he could kick them out. My father also told us to he would pick us up after school and to let the girls know and when they approached get our backs to a wall and be done with it.
I was scared but we did tell them we'd had enough and were ready to end it. They never showed up and they only bothered us one more time and my sister stood up for herself and called the girl out in the middle of a crowd and that was he end of it.
I think O will find that if she talks to each girl individually, they can't be together all the time, it may have some effect.
Good luck to O! Being in junior high sucks sometimes. At least she has a friend who knows what she's going through as well and she's not alone.

Mike said...

Had this same thing happen to my youngest in middle school (she's a sophomore now). The best advice is to not make a big deal of it. This will blow over fairly soon. Your daughter is just the flavor of the month right now. Soon the other girls will get bored and move on to some other kid. Of course if it gets physical then all bets are off....

Naomi said...

I'm so sorry O is going through this. Nora, who is in 7th now, has had some similar issues at her school. I think it makes an incredible difference when the principal and counselors stand behind their no tolerance for bullying policies, because it really made a difference in Nora's case.

I got a bunch of books on girl-girl bullying for me, and a bunch of teen-girl self esteem books for Nora. They helped us both. But the thing that the bullying books said to do -- to stand up to the Heathers, look them in the eye, tell them in no uncertain terms that you are not putting up with their crap any more -- that was too difficult for Nora to do.

In the end, a lot of it blew over -- just like the other comment said, she was no longer the "flavor of the month." Thank goodness O has only a couple more months of middle school because so much of this crap disappears once they enter 9th grade.

So send her hugs, tell her to stand tall and be proud and sure of herself, and that you are right there with her. Sometimes that's all you can do.

Christine said...

Oh God, I hated middle school. It's close enough to my age that I still remember it well. Girls are bitches.

Anonymous said...

Get yourself a copy of "Odd Girl Out" by Rachel Simmons. It will provide you some good insight into what is going on. I highly recommend it. It helped my daughter when she went through the same thing as O is going through.


asskeeper said...

I am just telling you from experience. I think 8th grade is the year aliens abduct all girls and just make them mean. We went through this with our girl scout troop. It was horrible. I don't know what to tell Olivia to do, but you need to listen to her.

Unknown said...

The karate lessons comment above makes a good point relative to the karate (though a bit odd otherwise). Though people think of Karate as about fighting, it really is about not needing to fight. It is a way to manufacture confidence in a certain area of life, and with that confidence you can move through the "in your face" stuff. If god forbid there is a violent act by a bully, the self defense aspect is there and her chances of handling it improve. I would see that as a minor piece. Usually the confidence boost wards that off. Bullies prey on the weak. Maybe see what she thinks?

Anonymous said...

Oh, man--poor O! And poor you, to be able to see the problem but be unable to help. I wish I had advice to give. I'll be looking for some of the books your readers have suggested, just in case.


kittenpie said...

That is really frustrating, because your involvement would likely only make things worse for her, so it's hard to know what to do. I hope it gets bettter soon!

Anonymous said...

I really dislike the whole "we can't do anything more until it becomes physical" line. I hate that it has to get to that point. But I understand "O" almost wishing they would do something.

I'm probably pretty extreme when I say that I wish the schools would automatically expel anyone caught bullying, especially seeing as how one of my own kids hasn't been a victim of it...but I watched my little sister go through something similar to what "O" is going through. It nearly destroyed her and it wasn't until my parents threatened legal action that the district administrators finally agreed to move my little sister to another school in the district. This was after two of the "Heathers" (to use your wording) cornered my sister in the girls shower and cut off half of her which had been down to her waist. This was after constant taunts, threats, harassment, and generally making my sister's life a living hell for the first two years she was in high school.

Those two girls were transferred to what is called a "continuation school" out in So's like a school for reprobates and flunkies and my sister went to her new school and ended up song leader and first chair flutist in the orchestra. My parents hated having to move her out of that school and away from friends she'd attended school with for the past 10 years.

And my sister has never ever grown her hair out again, which is so sad...she has long, naturally blond, wavy hair and it's really quite pretty.

Sandra Miller said...

Julia, it's been a long time since I thought of that movie... and my own experience in middle school with a couple of male "Heathers." Throughout 7th grade, they never left me alone.

Wish I had some advice, but it sounds like you're doing everything you can for O.

I guess I would just continue to encourage O to tell you whenever the Heathers do something-- and then keep at the folks at the school. Maybe even contact the girls' parents yourself (if O doesn't object).

I don't know. It's just miserable having to deal with this kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

My stomach was turning while I read your post. I'm 41 now and a mom of a two year old boy, but the scars from middle school crap like O is going through are still very raw.

I agree, don't try to confront the girls or fix the problem yourself. It does make it worse. I spent several years of doing damage control in school after my Mom tried to "fix" a school problem without even talking to me first.

It may seem like your daughter is being a bit dramatic, but the intimidation, threats, words, looks and harassment (even the subtle non-physical stuff) can be very damaging. It may blow over in a year or too, but the damage to her self esteem will be around for a long time, trust me on this. Acting like it is not a big deal or doesn't matter only makes teens feel worse in my opinion. When you are in it, it feels like hell! I think that is why teens become suicidal or lash out and kill others. The feelings of dispair caused by bullying are much more intense than adults like to give them credit or acknowledgement.

Looking back, a direct confrontation might have done the trick to get the "b" girls off my back. If O thinks she can do it, it's worth a try. However, you have to prep for it. A failed attempt at a confrontation with the "b" girls can only fan the flames of their bullying.

Roll-playing, practicing responses, what to say or do in various interactions that may arise, having a few come-backs ready for comments might help. If nothing else it will maybe help O feel like she is taking control of the situation and trying to solve it (which helps girls feel empowered). I brainstormed a bit with a friend about what to do after one really bad "b" interaction. As I recall, the brainstorming to solve the problem helped me feel a lot better at the time.

But to really get through middle and high school, having great self-esteem and feeling confident about yourself so that you don't care what the "b" girls say or do is the key I think. If O acts like it doesn't bother her, it takes the sting out of their attach and they'll move on. I truly think girls pick out the "weak" ones in the crowd (low self-esteem, hanging on what they girls think, lack of confidence, etc...). And those are the ones they pounce on.

So how to boost your daughter's self-esteem? I like the karate idea if she is interested. Or some other self defense class. This might help her feel physically safer so she feels prepared to defend herself if physically attacked.

Also, help her focus on things that make her feel good (art, sports, music, writing, whatever she is good at or enjoys). This will help offset the bad energy that is entering her life right now.

Brain storm with her on possible solutions, instead of trying to fix it for her. Sometimes kids have the answers if the parents can just help guide the brainstorming. Also, the brainstorming will help her feel empowered. If she doesn't want to brainstorm with you, maybe she could write in a journal. Getting her feelings on paper may help ease some of the anxiety. She is clearly having tons of that if she is throwing up. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday.

Brainstorm ideas like, how to avoid the girls as much as possible (take a different bus or get a ride to school, take a different route to class using a different hallway, change classes so you don't have to be in the same class with them, etc... if O is not available as a target the girls may move onto another group.

Help her to feel empowered so she doesn't feel like a victim and that her happiness and how good her day goes does not depend on negative interactions with these girls. Author Jack Canfield has lots of books on self-esteem for adults and kids (he's also the Chicken Soup books author).

My heart goes out to O. Even after 30 years the wounds from middle school are very fresh when I read stuff like this.

Of course now that I am grown I know what the "b" girls did, said (or didn't do or say) never really mattered, but it did at the time and the wounds have not completely healed.

My wish for O is that she doesn't end up with wounds or deep scars later in life, but instead looks back at this time as a turning point when her Mom was there for her during a tough time, and O gained the tools and confidence to deal with difficult people (which she will encounter in adulthood as well).

Best Wishes to you both.

Major Bedhead said...

Hi Anon - I wish I knew who you were.

I haven't belittled her issues to her face at all. I do wonder if she is dramatizing things, but I haven't ever said that to her face and wouldn't. I know all too well what it's like to have a parent belittle your problems. My mother did it to me and I don't want to repeat the same pattern with O.

I do strategize with her on ways to avoid those girls, things to say or not say and what to do if things do escalate. I also always listen, even if I do feel that she's blowing things out of proportion. She knows she can talk to me about anything and even though it can sometimes take her a while to work up the nerve to tell me something, she does it. I'm not sure how long that will last, but I hope that by listening to all of her problems, she'll never feel that I'm shutting her out.

I really appreciate your suggestions. Please feel free to email me if you have others because I'm always willing to listen and learn.