I engaged in my fair share of mean girl behavior when I was young. I strove to be a prescribed ideal. I vetted others against that ideal and aligned or didn’t align myself accordingly. But meeting a standard alone, wasn’t all - scarcity was also in play. In this system of adolescent girlness there wasn’t enough room for everyone even if you could approximate the pretty/popular/fun/smart/athletic ideal close enough. I somehow spent my middle school and early high school years simultaneously conforming to be more like my friends while also competing amongst my friends for who had the closest connections or most power. It was awful. It was my turn to be “out” of the power dynamic in 6th grade, and again in 10th grade, when after a full year of what we would now call bullying, I transferred schools, moving away to school in another state.
There were lots of lessons buried in this heap of teenage trauma. I learned a lot about conformity and power and how popularity works. I learned a lot about how to hurt someone and what makes for a good friend and a healthy social life. I hope that the messages I give my kids about all of the above help them to be more resilient and self-reliant during the same periods in their life. We already talk a lot about how different friends are great for different reasons and we like to spend time with them differently as a result. We already talk about how we appreciate the parts of our friends that are different than us. And how real friends let you be yourself. And I never use the term best friend.
One of the most powerful things I learned about during this time though was just how destructive and dangerous silence can be. It was my most salient experience of public suffering. Yet most of the time no one said anything. I could talk to my mom and a few sympathetic friends. But for the most part it went unacknowledged despite it’s obviousness. I had one friend who tried to split her time between the girl bully and me. She didn’t want to get in the middle. I understood. It was the safest thing to do. The stakes seemed high. But over time this kind of silence grated on me. It hurt. A lot. More than the bullying sometimes. After I moved away people (teachers, administrators and other parents) would see my mom and say what a shame it was what happened to me and that I left. I remember feeling surprised. And also angry to know about their concern after the fact.
It’s amazing to me, even now, what a profound impact silence has on all of us – it breeds more suffering.Read More