HBR | Bullying Beyond the Playground

The term “bully” might conjure images of playground taunting and name calling. But as some of us know, bullying doesn't only happen during our school years.

My post today at the Harvard Business Review, focuses on being bullied in business. In addition to discussing what it looks and feels like to be professionally bullied (hint:  see the photo above), I offer suggestions to help extricate yourself from an unprofessional professional relationship.

For more on this topic, see:

Little Girls Can be Mean
A few thoughts on bullies

Bullying around the world
The Difference between High Potentials and Leaders
Eliminate Bullying from the Workplace

 

Kylie Hunter | Little Girls Can Be Mean (Part 2)

In this second of a two-part series, Kylie Hunter shares how it felt to be bullied and what she learned — the post is in Kylie's words as dictated to her mother, Michelle Anthony.  You can read Michelle's perspective on Kylie's experience here.  You can learn more from Michelle in her book Little Girls Can be Mean:  Four Steps to Bully-proof Girls in the Early Grades

Kylie Hunter, 10 years old, has won both state and national awards for her writing.  While Kylie has always had a tremendous imagination, it was during first grade—when she began writing letters to herself to cope with her yo-yo friendship—that her passion for writing was sparked.  Since then, she has written a children’s chapter book about her experiences with Sherrie, along with countless poems (you can read one of her poems below).  She is currently in 5th grade at an arts-integrated magnet public school.

***
It’s been a little more than two years now.  Two years since I finally broke off my yo-yo friendship with Sherrie.  When I re-read the notes I wrote back then, it makes me want to cry.  Those moments have dissolved in my memory, but what’s left is a puddle.  A puddle of all the meanness mixed together with no solidity.

I remember feeling scared at night, but not about Sherrie.  About big monsters and bad fairies.  I was very confused back then.  I didn’t know whether she was nice or mean.  I couldn’t tell, because she stood up for me with classmates.  She invited me to sit with her at lunch.  She helped me when I was the new girl.  But what I didn’t realize was that the mean moments were more important than the nice moments, and the mean moments were a bigger deal.  Like the time she got me very excited about her birthday party—talking about it for days and saying how much fun we’d have together—and then intentionally didn’t invite me.  I felt so betrayed—by my own very best friend.  But maybe she wasn’t my best friend; that is what I couldn’t tell.

When I went to my teacher about it, she only made things worse.  She told me how I shouldn’t be worried.  How I should just toughen up.  So I felt like I had to toughen up, although I didn’t know how.  I didn’t know how to unlock the case in which I had been imprisoned.  One day I just broke down in gym and was sent to the school psychologist, to no avail.  I think she was trying, but all I could think was, “Those things won’t work.”  So I left feeling even more alone.

In my room, I’d begun writing letters about how I felt.  My mom found one and we began talking.   We both were kinda lost at first about what to do next.  I was still scared, but I finally had someone who I could trust and talk to about it.  Somebody who didn’t make me feel even worse.

Kylie Hunter's notes People sometimes ask me why I didn’t just stop being friends with her.  They don’t understand: she was my best friend.  By that point, she was my only friend.  If I gave up my only friend, I wouldn’t have anyone to play with on the playground.  I wouldn’t have anyone to share cookies with at lunch.  I wouldn’t have anybody to stand up for me when classmates were teasing me. I wasn’t ready to let go of what we had.

So in those early days, I just wrote letters.  To Sherrie’s mom, asking for help, to my imaginary friends, to my teachers, even to Sherrie.  I didn’t send them, but it made me feel like I was taking control.  It took a long time—over a year—before I finally found my way out of that friendship.  And I am a different person now because of it.  Because of Sherrie, but also because of what I learned along the way—from those who helped, and those who didn’t.  I feel more confident than I did.  I have more skills than I did, and I know that nobody is in charge of me—that I am my own person and nobody can change that.  No matter how mean they are.  And I know how to reach out to adults and how to ask for help, and I also know what sorts of people I can trust, like my mom.

So when I got the invite to Sherrie’s party, I thought carefully about going.   I knew I could avoid her, but I really wanted to try out my new techniques.  I wanted to show her and show myself that I was different.  That I had grown.  And I wanted to see my old acquaintance Sherrie again.  Maybe she had changed too.  Who knows?

***

Often children's verbal ability significantly outstrips their written communication skills.  Have you ever interviewed your children, allowing them to dictate to you their response?  What did you learn?  How did they feel?

In Michelle's post, she wrote that “girls struggle to find kind and appropriate ways to have influence and feel powerful.” What are some ways that you can help the girls in your life learn to have influence — in a good way?

It was in trying to cope with this experience, Kylie began to write — and writing helped her find her voice.  Are we giving our daughters opportunity for self-expression, including really listening to them?  Are we listening to ourselves?

When my daughter guest-posted and you were all generous enough to leave comments, it was tremendously validating for her.  Will you do the same for Kylie?

***

P.S.  I thought it would be a special treat to share with you one Kylie's poems.  In light of her experiences — and given the importance of friends as we dare to dream, I found this particular poem “Friends”, particularly meaningful.

Friends by Kylie Hunter

 

Michelle Anthony | Little Girls Can Be Mean (Part 1)

In this first of a two-part series, Michelle Anthony talks about her daughter Kylie being bullied.  In Part 2, Kylie provides her perspective, how she felt and what she learned.  Learn more in Michelle's recently published book Little Girls Can be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades.   

***
Michelle Anthony has spent upwards of a decade working hands-on with children and parents around girl-related issues through her professional work, and as a mother to young girls.  As a result of her own daughter becoming involved in a series of “Mean Girl” interactions in first grade, Michelle's interest in this topic was personalized.  Michelle is a columnist and feature writer for Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, and is a certified teacher and has spent many years in the classroom. She holds a B.A. in Education from Brown University, an M.A. in Child Studies and Teacher’s Certificate from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley.

***
2:30 PM. The party just ended.  Almost despite myself, I feel my heart racing.  After all, Kylie’s in fifth grade and has been to plenty of birthday celebrations.  But this is not a regular party, at least not for my daughter.  This party is for Sherrie (names are changed), Kylie’s former best friend who—a little over 2 years ago—tormented her for almost 2 years.  And Kylie being at this party was a chance for two dreams to be realized at once: hers and mine.

I remember I had been surprised when I opened the invitation and saw Sherrie’s name.  I double checked that the envelope had been addressed to Kylie, and had not been sent home by mistake.  And while I made it clear to Kylie that she didn’t need to attend, she surprised me by saying she wanted to.  My face went blank and she put her hand on mine and smiled, “Really, mom, it’s ok.  Things are very different now.”

Numbing the Sore
I looked over at her, and I saw it for the first time: how much she had grown.  Such a different look than she had in first grade, when her struggles with Sherrie began.  The issues went on for months before anyone knew about them.

Sherrie was Kylie’s closest friend, and—at first—her strongest ally.  But a destructive power dynamic soon developed. It was amazing the hold Sherrie had over her—the power she had to take something wonderful and make it dark and fearsome to Kylie. Kylie was an avid believer in fairies, and (in the beginning) the 2 would laughingly imagine they were visited by fanciful fairies in the backyard.  But when things changed, Sherrie took Kylie’s passion for fairies and used it to terrify her—telling her about fairies that were evil and would harm her.

Kylie Numbing 2
Kylie tried to speak to her teacher about her struggles midyear and was met with disbelief (“She’s such a nice girl; you must be misreading her intent”).  When she persisted, she was told to “thicken her skin,” which left her feeling more confused and alone.  It was only when I happened upon a scribbled note of loneliness that Kylie opened up and shared her isolation.

The day she finally broke the silence on her experience was the day that changed both of us.  Since then, my daughter and I have been on a journey of discovery, together.  To help her find her voice, and a path away from that sad, silent place.

Numbing the Sore 3
But in working to understand what was happening to her, we discovered not only a language to talk about her struggles, but also a framework and a means to deal with them.

Along this path, I also stumbled upon the power of a new dream: to give other girls and other parents the means to understand these experiences before they take their devastating toll.   Through our many interactions with teachers, parents, counselors, principals, and elementary-aged girls, my co-author and I uncovered an unspoken epidemic affecting countless young girls, leaving them feeling similarly isolated and alone. And having more than one daughter has allowed me to understand—from both a personal and professional place—how many nice girls not only struggle with the mean things that happen, but also with how to find kind and appropriate ways to have influence and feel powerful.

Sitting outside Sherrie’s party, I realize what a winding trail it’s been, and yet, this is the moment I didn’t even realize is the one we’ve both been waiting for.  As Kylie clamors into the car, our eyes meet, and a silent smile passes between us.  This time the silence is from a common language that needs no words to be expressed.  At that party, in that moment, I witness Kylie confidently bound across a chasm.  A chasm that only 2 years before sent her plummeting, alone and afraid, with no safety net to catch her fall.

***

I often hear of adolescent-age girls bullying, but not of grade school girls.  However, as I spoke to Michelle, I realized that my own daughter was bullied — by a best friend — in her early grade school years.  We stereotype bullying as “big kid mercilessly beating small kid to a pulp”, either physically or verbally.  But Michelle and Kylie's experience indicates that bullying can be much more subtle. 

Have you or your children had a similar experience? 

As you coped with this challenge, what did you learn about advocating for yourself?  Your children?  About teaching them to stand up for themselves?

When we say what we want out loud, that want gains power.  Interestingly, however, when we express our fears out loud, they tend to lose their hold. Is there something about which you need to break the silence?


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