As a fifth grade teacher, I am no stranger to pre-teen female drama. It’s a foregone conclusion that, at some point during the school year, at least two of my young ladies will be rife with angst. This year is no different.
We welcomed Taylor, new to our school, in August. No red flags initially, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that she was the “It” girl. You know the one I mean…the girl, who, for no discernible reason, is immediately popular. Everyone wants to be her friend. Exceptionally cute? Not really. Brilliant? Nope. Obviously I was missing something, because right away, Taylor engendered fierce competition among her female peers.
And she knew it. Manipulative, double crossing, hateful….just plain mean. I love all of my students, and Taylor is no exception. I love her, and I am worried about her. Countless conversations with various adults made no apparent difference in Taylor’s behavior. Early on, I changed her seat so that she was within arm’s reach. I watch her like a hawk within the classroom, but there were many other opportunities where she could work her magic.
Inevitably, a triad emerged. Anytime you have three girls together, it is trouble. In this case, Taylor was playing two girls against each other. Of course, these girls were fast friends before Taylor’s arrival – now they were rivals. Though both girls were very smart, one was more secure in her social position.
I had to hand it to them – both of these girls could be just as mean as Taylor. It was heartbreaking. One day one of the two competitors was very upset. A bigger girl, she mentioned that Taylor told her she was fat and needed to lose weight. This beautiful young lady – smart, capable, tough – teared up as she sat in the hallway looking up at me. Her sturdy, strong exterior was cracking.
My fury was obvious. I immediately sat down on the floor next to my crushed student, and said, “You are gorgeous.” I lavished her with compliments about her hair, her eyes, her smile, and then got to the point. “You are beautiful because you have a loving heart that shines right out of you. You are exactly what God had in mind when He made you.”
Her mood seemed to lighten then, for a while. That was a month ago, and the back-and-forth continues with a vengeance. Did Taylor’s mom teach her these behaviors directly, or by example? Was it because she was insecure and wanted her daughter to be safe? Or was there even any thought involved? I knew mom’s capabilities, having been her victim once via email. She was adept at her craft.
Why do we train our girls to be vile? Is it so they can be tough and survive? If anything, we need to scale way back on the hurtful, spiteful, vicious language and actions. This article, from Huffington Post, has some ideas for parents. We need to stop being competitive in our parenting, and lose the sarcasm.
We must heed Dr. King’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Empowering our girls with kindness, generosity, and grace will enable them to spread positivity and acceptance as they move through the world. And that is more essential than any academic skill could be.