Friday, April 02, 2010

Mean Girls?

Recently, a friend of mine became aware of the suicide of a teenage girl in Massachusetts, ostensibly because of bullying by "mean girls." The girl, Phoebe Prince, had moved to the United States from Ireland, and evidently, she had been the vicitm of bullying before "because she was pretty and other students were jealous of her."

The case has become something of a sensation, with columns and opinion pieces both here and across the pond, most tut-tutting that administrators and teachers should have "done" something. But what, precisely? Followed Phoebe from class to class, to and from home, on every date (it seems she had a few)? Should they have read every text, every comment on MySpace and Facebook? And is this, as some are saying, an epidemic.

Sorry, ladies, but the answer is no.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, a detailed annual survey of more than 40,000 Americans by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, is considered the most reliable measure of crime because it includes offenses not reported to the police. From 1993 through 2007, the survey reported significant declines in rates of victimization of girls, including all violent crime (down 57 percent), serious and misdemeanor assaults (down 53 percent), robbery (down 83 percent) and sex offenses (down 67 percent).

Girls aren't more violent. They just aren't. Why do girls like Phoebe Prince commit suicide? It's probably a mixture of the bullying and Phoebe's reaction to the bullying. Personally, I blame the 24/7 contact that modern teens have. When I was a teenager back in the Stone Age, the problem with bullies at school stayed at school. When you went home, you didn't have to deal with them anymore because they weren't likely to be calling you to harass you (unless it was a prank phone call, of course).

There have always been bullies. The way children are expected to deal with them has changed. Perhaps some of the problem is based on the way we expect children to handle taunting and teasing. Perhaps we don't prepare our children as well to deal with such things. Or maybe the teasing and taunting is just meaner. Regardless of the reason, mean girls aren't more violent than they were in previous generations. But don't expect the myth of the mean girl to go away any time soon.