Saturday, January 16, 2021

Dealing with Drama

This Guest Post graciously submitted by Rachel Simmons.

Girls + Relationships = Drama.

It’s a BFF (best friends forever) betrayal that can leave scars far into adulthood.

“When friends break your heart, it’s way worse than if someone of romantic interest breaks up with you,” said Rachel Simmons, the author of several books about girls and relationships.

A number of studies have found that girls have a propensity to use social forms of aggression, such as gossip and exclusion, when dealing with conflict. At least one study stated that those forms of aggression could be more emotionally damaging for girls.

Simmons recently offered some advice about how to encourage girls to be themselves despite, or because of, all the theater in their young lives.

The author of the New York Times bestseller “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,” a sequel, “Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write About Bullying, Cliques, Popularity and Jealousy,” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,” Simmons spoke to about 500 mothers, a few fathers and their daughters at a presentation last month sponsored by the Qualters Middle School Parents Advisory Council and Together We Can.

She said mothers need to model ways to deal with emotions that a daughter can emulate and help them to develop a vocabulary to label their feelings before acting on them.

Simmons, the founding director of the Girls Leadership Institute, also offered advice to girls, including ways to develop skills that will help them to be assertive, not aggressive in their relationships.

Simmons said one “big myth about girls is they have lots of feelings and emotions and so they must be really good at expressing them.”

“I have mediated nine million girl dramas,” said Simmons, noting that asking girls caught up in a friendship crisis how they are typically turns into responses of “urrr!” and “whatever.”

“And moving around does not burn calories,” Simmons said, imitating the typical body lingo girls use to accompany such responses.

She said girls need to be able to identify their feelings. “Emotions are like a GPS. They tell somebody where you are – like at the intersection of anxious and insecure.”

“If you don’t tell anybody how you feel, they can’t help you,” she said.

Often times, “girls expect that people will magically guess how they’re feeling,” Simmons said. “Girls, it’s your responsibility to tell people how you feel,” even if it is their BFF.

Simmons said many times, girls don’t give credence to their emotions. They tend to think “I’m making too big a deal out of this,” “I’m being too sensitive,” or “I should not be angry.”

“You’re not going to love all your feelings, but they’re a part of you,” she told the girls in the audience.

“You may have a friend who tells you not to feel how you feel. Tell your parents,” she said.

Simmons said it’s important for parents, while they might not agree with the feelings, to at least validate what their daughter is feeling.

“I understand you might have a daughter who is over-dramatic,” she said, getting some laughter and nods of recognition from mothers in the audience. “But she needs to hear that there’s respect for her feelings.”

Simmons offered what she called “Real Girl Tips,” like declaring a “NJZ” (No Joke Zone) with close friends and family.

“When girls say they’re ‘just kidding,’ they’re not just kidding,” Simmons said, noting with boys, it’s largely just the opposite.

She told of her father’s nickname for her – “Moose” – just what you don’t want to hear when you’re an adolescent girl.

“A lot of times somebody makes a joke you don’t like and if you don’t go along you get: ‘What’s your problem? Why are you so sensitive? Get over it!’

But there’s no need to find everything funny, Simmons said.

She told of her own insecurity in eighth grade: big feet. Her friend Danielle’s personal peeve was her hair. While Simmons couldn’t care about her own hair, she had to respect that Danielle’s “NJZ” was her hair and not to make any disparaging comments, even jokingly, about it.

Size is the number one sensitive subject for girls, especially between fifth and eighth-grades. Friends, gossip and having a unibrow, were among the others cited by audience members.

If you enter a friend’s forbidden joke zone, “apologize sincerely and talk about something else,” Simmons advised. She said if someone at home makes a joke that isn’t appreciated, still apologize sincerely, not with an attitudinal “sorrrrry!”

Simmons added what she called one “awesome” tip: “Never, ne-ver make jokes about another girl’s boobs.”

She said it’s important for girls to not only be able to put a face on their emotions, but learn ways to deal with them – assertively, not aggressively.

Simmons had the audience members turn to their partners and put their palms together. First, one pushed then the other. Pushing back is human instinct, she said. And “the same thing happens in conversation. When people get upset, you’re not going to get what you want.”

“When you have a problem with a friend, there’s nothing wrong with feeling anger,” Simmons said. But when you have to talk to a friend, you’re not going to get what you want if you’re too busy pushing back. And online, especially, is no place to be having that type of exchange.

She told the girls in the audience that when they have to have a tough conversation with someone, “practice on a parent.”

Parents of girls need to talk about feelings at home, ask about their daughter’s feelings and validate them.

Oh, sure. When you ask how they’re day has been, the reply is “Fine,” Simmons acknowledged.

But perhaps while a captive audience in the car, ask your daughter about the “highs” and “lows” of her day. Make it a ritual, she advised.

Simmons told parents that how they act in front of their daughters can constitute teaching moments.

She told of how her mother influenced her, which she only realized later in life.

Her mother was a teacher in her school and would occasionally take Simmons and her brother out to a fast-food restaurant at the end of the school day. “She would get French fries and if there were not hot enough, she would ask them to reheat the fries,” in short, getting what she wanted, but without being nasty about it.

“I was so humiliated – my brother would say, ‘get over it.'”

Years later, after a day of skiing, Simmons stopped at a fast-food eatery. Her French fries were cold. She went back to the counter to have them heated up.

This article was originally published on March 9, 2011 in the Sun Chronicles.

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