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I was recently asked to write a guest blog directed towards teen girls and related to issues of harassment and bullying online and offline…and so I wanted to share it with our readers.  It has a very conversational tone, and reflects what I want to convey to this population as they navigate the difficult waters of adolescence.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Even though I’m a guy, I’ve been asked to write a guest blog about teen girls and some of the nonsense they have to deal with – both offline and online.  I appreciate this opportunity; I speak to tens of thousands of youth in schools each year about some of the social and relational stuff that affects them.  We call it different names, and each of these words means different things to different people.  I don’t love the word “bullying” because youth don’t really use this word as often as adults.  But it could be that.  It could be really obvious, like someone coming up to you at school and knocking your books to the floor, or shoving you into a locker, or just getting in your face and screaming at you…but we find that girls have to deal with stuff that is a lot more subtle.

For example, we see and have to deal with a lot of drama…just ridiculous things that come up – whether it is gossip, or sexual rumors, or simple sarcastic comments that actually hurt.  Like talking behind your back. Or not including you on a Facebook Event invite.  Or excluding you in other ways and just making you feel not welcome, and like you don’t belong. Unfortunately, people say things without thinking, and spread stuff that isn’t true, or that only paints a partial or one-sided picture of a situation.  And people can text or post comments or pictures online about you that shouldn’t be posted.  People can just hate on you for no reason…except that maybe they are struggling with their own problems, or dealing with their own insecurities and issues and they simply don’t know how else to cope, except to be a jerk to someone else.

It’s messed up.  But it happens daily.  And maybe you think to yourself, I can’t let this bother me.  I gotta shrug it off.  Haters gonna hate.  Their opinion of me shouldn’t matter.  But honestly, what is our reality?  Our reality is that is *does* matter.  It just does.

We want people to like us.  We do. We want to feel like we belong, we want to feel like others want to get to know us, want to hang out with us, want to date us.  I mean, growing up we are already so insanely aware of our own flaws and imperfections – whether it is the shape of our nose, or our skin complexion, or our body type, or our hair, or our family situation, or what we can afford.  And we are super hard on ourselves as it is – and have such a difficult time finding anything valuable and beautiful about who we are, and who we are becoming.  The last thing we need is for others to point out our flaws, and broadcast them to the rest of the student body.  The last thing we need is others possibly thinking the worst of us, because we already have such a hard time believing the best about ourselves.  It’s just rough.  I think you can understand, because I feel like we’ve all been there at some point or another.   And as much as we want to push it into a corner of our mind so it doesn’t affect us as much, the hurt sometimes seems to take over our world.  I know sometimes I felt like I just never wanted to go back to school again…never show my face again…never get back online again.

The thing is, we have to try – over the course of years and years – to get to a point where our identity isn’t completely wrapped up in how others perceive us.  And this is so hard.  Most adults haven’t gotten to a good place with this yet.  But we know our own feelings and emotions and opinions – we can’t fully trust them.  They change all the time.  That’s how it is for everybody.  And if our identity – who we know we are – is constantly dependent on what other people are saying about us, it is going to be a really rough life.  You won’t ever fully “own” who you are.  You’ll be at the mercy of catering to the thoughts and feelings and opinions and pressures and demands of others.  And this is an awful way to live.

You have got to get your identity from something stable.  Something unchanging.  Something that can tell you who you are, where you can believe it and be forever sure about it.  And then, when you can get that into your heart, fully and truly, you can live your life out of it.  And then life honestly becomes so much better.

And when you see the hate or drama happening to others, when you see girls being mean to each other in the lunchroom, or hallway, or on Instagram, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or Facebook, or via Group MMS…how do you deal with it?  I know we are hesitant to do anything, and say to ourselves we should mind our own business and stay out of it.  Or we hold back because we don’t want to be the next person harassed.  Or we don’t want to be known as a rat or narc.  And sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to do.  The thing is, we know deep down what is wrong and what is right.  We know we wouldn’t want to be treated a certain way, but sometimes we let it happen to those around us.  And we shrug it off.  But you hear the stories about those who are targeted and mistreated.  Some of them feel there is no other escape other than taking their own life.  Others wrestle with serious psychological and emotional problems because of it.  Still others try to cope by harming others, or harming themselves (cutting).  It’s kind of a big deal.  I think you get that.

Bottom line, we have to step up.  I know we’re nervous, or scared, or hesitant for a million reasons.  But we have to push through that.  So many stay silent and just let the hate continue.  But if you want people to be drawn to you, if you want to be popular for the right reasons, do something that sets you apart.  Don’t stay silent.  Intervene at that moment, despite your hesitation.  Or go talk to someone who can help (like an adult you trust) afterward.  If it’s happening online, formally report it as “abuse” to the site or social network, and help the person to use the privacy settings or blocks or filters to control who is able to message them or post to their profiles.

Most of the time, teens who are targeted feel paralyzed, and feel like they don’t have a voice. You can be that voice.  I know when I was being mistreated growing up, I would have *loved* for someone to step up for me.  And if you’ve had to deal with drama, or bullying, or threats, or anything like that, I’m sure it would have made things easier for you if someone would have done something.  Even as little as being an encouragement to you and showing love to you.  Even that matters…the smallest things can make a huge difference. And intervening on someone’s behalf shows that you truly care for them.  We all need that sometimes – probably more than sometimes.  This can be invaluable in helping overcome the pain that was caused.

The first time you step up will be the hardest.  Kind of like anything we try to tackle in life.  Anything worth doing is going to be difficult.  You know how it is.  But I hope you take that chance to do the right thing.  And start to build a habit of it.  And in time, people will take notice.  And you’ll have set an example, and you’ll have held to a standard.  And in time, people will be drawn to you because you’re not like everyone else.  This is how people differentiate themselves from everyone else, from the masses.  And have amazing lives – lives that rise above all of the stuff that wants to hold us down.

10 Comments
  1. Angelica Martinez

    Hi! My name is Angelica and I am making an investigation about cyberbullying. I found your contribution very helpful, as a teen I also struggled with social acceptance, every kid does and I think is important for all to know that even the most confident person can feel this way. Technology has made even more difficult to identify harassment towards a person, that is why it is important to make a bigger effort to educate the masses about this problem that does exist.
    I loved that you embraced the idea of standing up for a victim of this issue; this might feel surreal but if every person does, the probability of victims would drop exponentially. I thank you for your efforts on fighting cyberbullying.

  2. Laura Buitrago

    It is interesting to see how bullying can be trickled down to such everyday things. It is true that wecare so much about people’s perception of us that even not being invited to a Facebook event affects some of us. I believe that these are things people have to learn to cope with and become stronger. I think that the term “bullying” shouldn’t be utilized so broadly, and instead be applied to a “personal” attacks. Maybe that person had a limit on their Facebook invites and you did not happen to be as close to the individual that was not invited- it was not a “personal blow”. I believe that facing life makes us stronger, we cannot pretend to be untouched for our whole lives. These comments, unfortunately, form part of life.

    I also have to see this from different perspectives and understand that not everyone is strong and persistance of this feeling of rejection can lead to drastic actions (self-harming, suicide, depression, etc). And here is when I agree with this article- any small deed can completely change someone’s life. Showing that you care, smiling at someone- that does not take much effort from your part, and in return it can save a life.

  3. Katelyn Diekmann

    I love this article. He cannot be more right about stepping up and being popular for the right reasons. Standing up for someone or even yourself may seem like the uncool thing to do, but as you grow out of teenage years you realize that your friends circle starts to shrink and you keep the people close to you that you enjoy being around. Those are obviously not the people who gossip and “bully”. If teenage girls would realize that when we grow up, people remember if we were good people or bad, maybe they would be nicer as teenagers. The actions you take in high school are forming the adult you will become and the circle of friends that you will keep. Eventually being mean gets old and isn’t the cool thing to do. If you are always a nice, strong person you will win in the end.

  4. Alissa Warren

    This was a great article. It’s so important for those that deal with bullying of any form to know that at least one person is on their side, or at least to know that it will get better over time. Honestly, I think those of us that are willing to step in and stick up for those being bullied are the ones that dealt with it on our own when we were younger. If more people are willing to stand up for someone else or reach out to let them know that another person’s opinion isn’t that big of a deal we might have children that turn out to be kinder adults for it.

  5. Emily McPhail

    I never would have thought that drama could be a form of bullying. Now that I think about it I
    completely agree. Girls do those kinds of things to hurt other girls. They don’t
    invite everyone to the party to make sure that a certain person feels left out.
    It is cruel how people act and I completely agree that we need to step up when
    we see this happening.

  6. Vivian Marino

    Drama is definitely a form of bullying. Girls are very mean and judgmental during the teen years. As a parent to a little girl, I will make sure to always assure her of how beautiful and smart she is and how anything anyone says is irrelevant. I will also make sure that she does stand up for someone else who might be made fun of or is being bullied. If we as society would stand up for one another instead of going against each other all the time, this world would be a much better place.

  7. Linda Romero

    This is true, girls will go out of their way to do mean stuff to other girls, its crazy how much drama can come from bullying. I think that everyone should stick up to people that are being bullied. No matter how harmful words and actions might be people get really hurt by the comments that people make and can eventually cause them to actually start believing this things.

  8. Joshua Senften

    You identify very well with what students go through being ridiculed at school and online. It is very hard to react or do anything when we are teased, put down or gossiped about. We must act and take a stance for kindness. We also need to make sure we are friendly to others in our day to day life as well. Great post!

  9. Lindsay

    As a girl, I can completely relate to this blog post. Although I had an awesome high school experience with lots of great friends, I can also recall hating life a few times. The problem is to try and fit in girls talk a lot about one another. In high school it’s ten times worse than usual because you have to be around the same people all the time. When a rumor is going around school about you, there is no where to go because everyone you encounter there has heard it. It took me a while to realize that people unfortunately just like to talk to much, but since I learned this I have been very happy with life and have made sure that I don’t gossip too, because I know the damage it can do.

  10. Anonymous

    My twelve years old little sister is being bullied at school. I am in college and not home very often. We are so different. I am petite and a brunette. She is taller than me and a dirty blond. I don’t understand how to comfort her or why she is being picked on? I feel like our mom is not doing enough to stop it! What should I do?

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