by Sue Ann Ryback
Life is ultimately about relationships, and success in life often depends upon our ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships. This was one of the main points made by Rachel Simmons at a workshop on female aggression held March 17 at Springside School.
“Relationships are about having skills,” Simmons said. “I like to call relationships the fourth “R” – reading, writing, arithmetic and relationships.”
Simmons is the author of New York Times bestsellers “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence.” A Rhodes Scholar and Vassar graduate, she has dedicated her life to developing strategies to address bullying and empower young women.
When girls are psychologically aggressive towards one another, it is often written off as a “rite of passage” or as “developmental,” Simmons said. “If you don’t call bullying what it is, girls learn or begin to believe that this behavior is normal.”
Research indicates that most boys bully their acquaintances or strangers, and girls hurt their friends, Simmons said.
“When girls are hurt by their friends, and they don’t learn to define the behavior as bullying, it becomes part of their definition of intimacy,” she said.
Girls accept that it is normal for someone they love to hurt them, Simmons said, noting that not dealing with female aggression affects what women become as leaders.
Simmons discussed the three most common types of aggression girls engage in: social aggression, indirect aggression and relational aggression.
Social aggression is behavior that harms reputation, such as gossip and rumors. Indirect aggression would be anonymous or under pretense of friendship. An example of indirect aggression would be “You look fat in that shirt – just kidding!
In relational aggression, girls learn to use friendship as a weapon. For example, a young girl may say, “If you don’t give me that I won’t be your friend.”
Simmons addressed the impact of social media and female aggression, pointing out that parents need to reassert their authority when it comes to social media.
“One of the most unfortunate myths about kids and technology is that kids are digital natives – parents are digital emigrants,” Simmons said. “Technology is a privilege, not a right.”
Parents must teach their children how to use technology safely, ethically and responsibly, she said. This means not using other people’s passwords, not posting embarrassing photographs or other humiliating material and not misrepresenting yourself, Simmons said.
Simmons said that, unfortunately, teenagers believe that the more socially connected they are, the more socially secure they will be, and that one of the reasons girls are so obsessed with social media is that they are using social media to make them feel better about themselves.
“The same tools they are invoking to make themselves feel better are the same exact things that are making them insecure and paranoid, anxious and fearful,” Simmons said. “If your kids like your technology policy, you are probably doing something wrong.”
Simmons suggested that parents set time limits on social media and that there should be certain times when kids can’t be “wired.”
Here are a few of her suggestions for parents:
No phones in bed, during meals or homework.
Read the phone bill and find out when they are texting.
Know their child’s Facebook password and check it randomly.
“This is where the parenting gets hard – this is where it matters,” Simmons said. “Ultimately, what we really want to show girls is that “a good girl” is not someone who is nice all the time, but someone who has the courage to look at herself honestly and say I am sorry.”
Eileen Burkart, parent of a seventh grader at Wissahickon Charter School, said she monitors her daughter’s Facebook page. In the beginning, she confessed she wasn’t sure about asking her daughter for her Facebook password, but in the end she listened to her gut.
“I don’t check it all the time,” Burkart said.
Julie Williams, a parent from Blue Bell said, “Parents have these intuitive thoughts – but you think I am not the native. I am the emigrant.”
Patty Billock, who has a daughter at Springside, said Facebook was “scary.”
“I had to be upfront about it,” Billock said, referring to her daughter’s Facebook page. “I want to be authentic. I think they [kids] try it on for size.
“The problem with being raised with the good girl image is that we expect our children to be nice to everyone. Instead, we should expect our children to be nice people.”