For many middle school girls, itâ€™s all about expensive brand names, the thinnest body and the most sought after boyfriend.
â€œThereâ€™s so much pressure to conform,â€ said Deb Harkey, a counselor at West Lincoln Middle School. â€œYou would be amazed at the pressures for girls to have certain hairstyles, clothing, weight.â€
Girls who donâ€™t live up to the ideal are often the target of bullying. Even the most well adjusted students arenâ€™t free from involvement.
Itâ€™s rare a student leaves middle school without some exposure to bullies whether it be as a victim, bystander or actually becoming the Queen Bee in her clique.
â€œIf you think your kidâ€™s not part of it, then youâ€™re not in touch with your kid,â€ said Harkey.
Part of being a middle school bully is creating isolating incidents that donâ€™t result in punishment. Making a show of handing out invitations to everyone but the target is one such example.
â€œMiddle-schoolers, girls and guys both, are going to sneak behind the teacherâ€™s back,â€ said Ann Parsley, a counselor at Lincolnton Middle School. â€œTheyâ€™re not going to do it where an authority figure can see whatâ€™s going on. They do subtle things.â€
Many times the victims of bullying also work to keep the situation under wraps.
â€œItâ€™s like a secret they canâ€™t share,â€ said Harkey. â€œItâ€™s not talked about openly.â€
Although there is no set type of person who gets bullied, students who are targeted often canâ€™t afford the latest clothes and are either overweight or underweight, have grades that are too high or too low or have physical, emotional or learning disabilities.
â€œThey usually pick someone they can rule over,â€ said Parsley.
Many people envision bullying to include stealing lunch money and beating up kids after school. For the pre-teen girl, it more often includes mean rumors and having no one to sit with at lunch.
â€œWith girl bullies, the tactics are to make you feel isolated,â€ said Harkey. â€œI think exclusion is their main tool.â€
Harkey believes the girls who bully know what they are doing and are very calculated in their actions.
â€œThey see others doing it, and they perfect the art,â€ she said.
Some bullies come from home lives that are characterized by rejection or frigidity. Parents of bullies are more likely to use severe physical punishment and be abusive, and their parenting practices can be inconsistent and ineffective, according to â€œThe Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: Helping Them Allâ€ by Esther Williams.
Girls also become bullies because theyâ€™re insecure and feel competitive with their peers. Others do it in order to avoid becoming a victim, and, of course, there are the girls who enjoy the thrill the power affords them.
â€œThe reasons are as varied as the girls themselves,â€ said Harkey.
Pre-teen girls go to great lengths to fit in and avoid being picked on. Some change their clothes after coming into school. Others suffer through the cold in a T-shirt because it has a label name spread across it. Navel piercings and sexually provocative clothing and behavior can also play a role.
Of all the insecurities that plague young girls, the most common one is weight. Many middle school girls have already attempted dieting and some have strayed as far as bulimia and anorexia.
â€œYou still have baby fat when youâ€™re in sixth grade. Youâ€™re not going to look like Brittany Spears, and you donâ€™t want to,â€ said Harkey. â€œTheyâ€™re stopping their body from growing naturally.â€
Well meaning mothers sometimes accidentally aid in the girlsâ€™ insecurities by putting them on diets.
â€œThey think theyâ€™re trying to spare their daughters to make them more popular,â€ said Harkey.
Popularity, however, is not the magic ingredient to a pleasant passage through middle school. Instead, itâ€™s important for a parent to be able to talk with their children.
â€œThe biggest thing is to keep an open line of communication with their kids, so if they are worried or bothered about something, they can come talk to parents,â€ said Jeannie Travis, a counselor at East Lincoln Middle School.
When a child starts to talk about a problem their friend is having, itâ€™s often an indication of something that is bothering them.
Parents should also know who their childrenâ€™s friends are and whatâ€™s happening in their social lives. Having a child invite her friends over to the house is a quick way to size up the situation.
It also does wonders to bring the bullying problem out into the open.
â€œJust recognizing that itâ€™s going on takes some of the power away,â€ said Harkey.
Lincoln County counselors have been equipped with workshops on bullying, and since the start of the year, they have traveled from class to class helping to make their schools â€œbully free zones.â€
â€œWe want all the kids to feel safe in school,â€ said Travis.
Sometimes, however, all that can be done is encourage good behavior and help children get through the more difficult times.
â€œI think itâ€™s a rite of passage,â€ said Harkey. â€œItâ€™s going to happen, itâ€™s human nature.â€by Sarah Grano