Laura Brodie, Ph.D.

Laura Brodie Ph.D.

Love in a Time of Homeschooling

Mean Girls and Homeschooling Moms

When Mean Girls rule middle school...

Posted Mar 31, 2010

Mean Girls and Homeschooling Moms

In my last post I started a series on bullying, designed to show how problems with persistent bullies have inspired some families to homeschool for the short term. Katrina Stonoff, author of the Stone Soup book blog, started off by telling the story of her son, James, who experienced the type of bullying faced by many elementary school boys-everything from name-calling and teasing, to being stuffed head first into a trash can. After repeated attempts to remedy the problem, Katrina pulled James out for several months of homeschooling, followed by enrollment in a charter school, and later, another public school.

Today I want to share a more recent tale, from a mother whose daughter faced the sort of middle school bullying depicted in the popular film "Mean Girls." The mother and daughter in this true story (I'll call them Beth and Shari), moved to a new town when Shari reached the sixth grade, and during Shari's first year in middle school, things were fine. Shari felt that she was friends with everybody, and she was happy not to be tied to one social clique.

But when seventh grade arrived, everything changed. A group of girls at the school decided they didn't like Shari, and chose to torment her by repeatedly stealing her clothes during gym class, shoving her "accidentally" in the halls, and plaguing her with sneering comments. On one occasion they decided to stage a night of taunting phone calls. Beth, who had been alerted to their plan after reading one girl's MySpace page (smart Mom!), was on hand to tell the girls to stop calling. She put the phone on silent and woke up the next morning to see that the bullies had called every fifteen minutes throughout the night. Beth went to the police, filed a complaint, got the phone records and called one girl's parents into the station. Although the parents claimed to take the problem seriously, supposedly grounding their daughter, the problems at school continued, and neither the principal nor school counselor seemed able to make a difference.

Meanwhile Shari was so upset, she was losing sleep from all her nighttime crying. And so Beth decided to homeschool her daughter for the second half of the seventh grade. This wasn't an easy choice; it meant juggling her daughter's lessons with her work for a local magazine. It was also hard to construct a curriculum on the spur of the moment. The middle school provided Beth and Shari with all the textbooks and guidance they wanted, but Beth eventually learned that homeschooling works better if it isn't just "school at home." As she put it: "Civics wasn't meant to be taught from a textbook." Their best lessons came from cooking together, and experimenting with foreign cuisine.

That semester proved beneficial for Shari, enabling her to regain her self-confidence, and helping to reduce the tensions at school. In fact, when she returned for the eighth grade the next fall, the mean girls apologized. But Beth still remembers the hard lessons she and her daughter learned about bullying.

Here, in Beth's own words, were the key take-away points:

"I think the thing to really understand is that these kids are so "sneaky" that the teachers think/feel they have a handle on the situation, but the kids are much smarter than they give them credit for. I remember when the principal had "alerted" all the teachers to what was happening in the hallways and they all "posted" themselves in the halls between classes. One of the "it" girls "bumped" into Shari hard. Right in front of the teacher. The girl (in all her 7th grade innocence) looked at Shari and said "oh, I'm so sorry" and some other apologetic words. The teacher saw this sweet-natured girl (who couldn't possibly be one of the tormentors because she was "sweet") and truly believed it was an accident. The group of girls were inside the classroom snickering about it -- the teacher didn't catch on. I do think that for the most part teachers/administrators desire to end bullying and are doing their best. The kids are smart and know how to get away with it.

It's so easy for parents to judge other parents - especially if they've never been in a situation like this. As a parent, you can only let your child endure for so long before you realize that staying in the situation is going to cause serious damage. You're torn. I understand why people think that pulling a child out of school would translate into teaching a child to run away instead of work it through, but at what point is enough enough? This had been going on/getting progressively worse for months. There was no sign of it getting better so what choice did we have? Everyone was aware, nothing was changing.

By taking her out of the situation and homeschooling, we showed Shari that she was the most important factor in this equation. We love her and would do anything for her. It enabled her to take a breather, to let her figure out what she was made of, to role play and learn how to say "back off bitch" (oh yes, we taught her many fabulously foul phrases), and to grow as a person and gain her self confidence back (totally absent at this point). It may not be right in every situation or for every family, but it was right for Shari."

I welcome comments from readers. Why do we have so many mean girls in today's society? What are the best ways to respond to bullying? When is it time to pull a child from school?