A young teen grabbed another girl by her hair and shoved her to the ground. When the girl hit the concrete, the teen hit her one more time and then walked away. The victim had been one of her friends.
Bystanders would not be able to pick this angry teen — with the violence simmering beneath the surface — from any other at a mall. She looked like the girl next door, except she had embraced a theory: You've got to take care of yourself; get them before they get you.
She explained her philosophy: "If a guy is a player, I'll play him first. If my parents make me mad, I'll make them pay."
Some are calling this breed the "New American Girl." She's more physical, not afraid to be aggressive or go after what she wants, and she takes care of herself. A report from the Population Reference Bureau states that national arrest statistics for simple and aggravated assaults by girls have been climbing for more than a decade and continue to rise.
While some girls resort to violence, others are turning their independence into a positive. They aren't afraid to succeed in sports or politics. They stand up for their convictions. They chase their dreams.
The challenge for parents of girls is to model strength without violence, set limits and consequences and explain how aggression can be destructive to them, their relationships and others.
0- to 3-year-olds: Set Limits
Babies aren't born with radar telling them how far they can go with their behavior. They learn limitations from their parents. Toddlers may resort to kicking or hitting a parent or sibling when they are angry. This behavior is an invitation for parents to set boundaries.
- Be direct. When toddlers hit, show disapproval immediately. Tell them "no" firmly. Hold the child's hands gently and look into the child's eyes as you say no.
- Be consistent. Toddlers will be confused about their limitations if one day they are disciplined for a behavior and the next day they get away with it.
- Pray. After the boundaries are set and the child has consistently been disciplined, pray that God will give your child an obedient spirit to serve Him.
4- to 7-year-olds: Little Mean Girls
If a teacher has sent a note home saying that your daughter is being mean to another girl in class, your instinct may be to ignore it or place blame on others. Don't.
A growing social trend among 4- to 7-year-old girls is to label some as "Little Mean Girls." Those girls are the ones who find it socially beneficial to tell lies, secrets or rumors about classmates, to exclude peers or to give others the silent treatment. They use relational aggression.
Step One: Parents should search for the whole story. Is your child the instigator? Does she feel that she has to join in with whatever friends are doing to keep friendships intact? Is she going along with the crowd?
Step Two: Be her role model. If you gossip about the teacher or others in front of your child, she learns to do the same. Let her know that this is unacceptable behavior for everyone, including you.
Step Three: Gently teach spiritual truth. It may be socially acceptable in the second grade to isolate another girl, but show your daughter why it is wrong biblically.
Step Four: Let her know that you are available to listen or talk with her when she feels aggressive toward another person or pressured to join in. Assure her that you will work together to find a more positive way to handle the situation.
8- to 12-year-olds: Self-Injuring
A 12-year-old scratches her arm with the sharp edge of a ruler. When her parents confront her, they discover deeper cuts on her legs. If your daughter is self-injuring, your instinct may be to punish her, but this may only increase the risky, self-violent behavior.
The underlying factor behind self-injury is often an inability to express emotions or fears. The 12-year-old heard from her friends that cutting herself would make her feel good, and the release of endorphins do make her feel better, if only temporarily. As a parent, you should:
- Address the issue immediately.
- Look deeper for the real problem.
- Let her know that she is valuable to you and to God; eliminate shame from the process.
- Pray with her, if she is open to praying with you. Pray for her silently if she isn't.
- Seek help from a Christian counselor if you believe her self-injury is ongoing.
Teens: Tracking Violence
Is your daughter becoming more violent? Sandy Austin, author and veteran high school counselor on the scene after the Columbine violence, believes there are more stresses in girls' lives, and many are not equipped with healthy ways to deal with their anger and frustrations. "Look for unresolved issues that they may not have processed thoroughly, including losses, rejection, unmet expectations, betrayal and insecurities, and invest in the help they need to work through it."
You can partner in that process. Conflict and frustration is a natural part of life, and teens are watching to see how we deal with it. Don't avoid conflict or paint a false picture of harmony when real issues are simmering in the home. By talking about it and working as a family to resolve conflict, teens learn how they should act or react when they face it themselves.