Many of the girls who are at the bottom of the social ladder at school are also rejected at home by their siblings, by kids in the neighborhood, and by absentee parents. They are chronically lonely, which makes them try too hard to make friends at school. Hunger for acceptance is like carrying a neon sign saying, "I am desperate." It drives away both male and female peers.
The need for warm and caring friendships has implications for physical and emotional health. Study after study has demonstrated that human beings are social creatures and thrive better when they are loved and appreciated, even by a few people. Dr. DeWitt Williams is director of health ministries of the North American Division of Seventh-Day Adventists. He addresses this understanding of human nature, offering this remarkable illustration:
A friend sent me pictures of twin babies that were born prematurely. The nurses looked at these tiny babies and didn't think they were going to survive. The larger one might have a slim chance, but the smaller one didn't have much of a chance. So on the night that they thought the smaller baby would die, one of the nurses put her in the incubator with her sister. Almost as soon as the larger twin felt her sister next to her, she reached out and put her arm around her. Lying in bed, she cuddled up to her all night and that arm was wrapped tightly around her. Tubes were in their arms and noses, but they were close to each other. And that's all that mattered. The nurses said that from that moment on the little baby thrived. When they came in the next day, they were surprised to see how alert and responsive the little girl had become. From then on, she grew and gained weight. They both lived and thrived. A big hug and intimate closeness made the difference.
There must be some truth in what someone has said: You need at least four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs for maintenance, and twelve hugs for growth. Have you had your hug today?9
Dr. Williams's point is that human beings desperately need the affirmation and support of one another at every stage of their lives, beginning when we are newborns. It is the way we were designed. The Creator could have put within us the temperaments of leopards, great white sharks, European bison, or other animals that remain solitary except when mating or raising young. Instead, He gave us an innate longing for human friendship and affection, and then told us to meet those needs for one another.
When Jesus was asked by a teacher of the law which of the commandments was most important, He replied, "The most important one . . . is this: . . . 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31).
Given this emphasis, it is easy to understand why teens suffer so terribly when they are rejected and ridiculed. The need for belonging and emotional support during adolescence is greater than at any other time of life. That is why the experience of being bullied as a teen is always devastating. The natural reaction of the wounded young man or woman is to develop a spirit of bitterness and anger. According to Rachel Simmons, bullying creates a hotbed of resentment and jealousy. Until it is exposed, it exists below the radar of teachers, counselors, and parents. Girls, however, are quite aware of what is going on.
This is what many girls are dealing with today. What can be done to help them? Let's start with what Wendy Shalit writes in Girls Gone Mild:
Public health researchers at Tufts and Harvard tell us that bullying is learned behavior—learning to feel good at someone else's expense—and that this pattern can be unlearned. And Jennifer Connolly, the director of York University's LaMarsh Centre for Research into Violence and Conflict Resolution, has found that 90 percent of the time bullying will stop if adults in authority respond speedily and let the aggressor know that their behavior is completely unacceptable. Can it be "live and let live" attitudes are actually more likely to cause bullying than any belief in girls' niceness?10
I agree entirely that the incidence of bullying is increasing because more adults are permitting it to happen, and they may even encourage it by their unwillingness to teach girls to "be nice." Strong, independent, aggressive, and assertive girls appeal more to some modern adults' biases. For whatever reasons, parents, teachers, Scout leaders, and church supervisors often ignore taunting behavior.
9.DeWitt Williams, "The Friendship Factor," College and University Dialogue, http://dialogue.adventist.org/articles/15_2_williams_e.htm.
10. Shalit, Girls Gone Mild, 254.
Book: Bringing Up Girls
By Dr. James Dobson