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Being Your Child's Advocate

Posted Monday, November 24, 2008, at 2:10 PM

Have you ever noticed that children will act the role they have been given to play? For better or worse, other children, parents and teachers have a great deal of power over a child's behavior. Girls in junior high and high school are very tuned in to this. Once a girl has been labeled an outcast, either because she doesn't have the right hair, clothes or personality, it doesn't matter what she does after that. She could show up with new clothes, new hair, and maybe even give up her previous values, but the cliques that have already been formed are unlikely to accept the changes in her. Eventually, most girls just give up and accept whatever label has been given to them.

Mary Pipher shed a lot of light on this subject in 1994 with her book, "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls." Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a fictional account of this phenomenon in "Speak," which is a beautiful and triumphant young adult novel about how one ninth grade girl copes with the alienation from her friends during the most traumatic year of her life. Both of these books are a must read for parents of junior high and high school girls.

For some reason, the effects of labeling boys is less obvious, but still problematic. "The Wonder of Boys," by Michael Gurian, is a wonderful guide for parents and teachers about the issues facing growing boys. My favorite chapter in this book is "Boys Need a Tribe," which explains why boys need positive experiences with others, including and outside of their immediate family to build their self-worth.

While all this may seem academic, the bottom line is this: if your child is beginning to express negative emotions like, "Nobody likes me," "so and so makes fun of me," or "I hate school," take action now. Don't assume your child is overly negative or whiny. Talk out some solutions for handling bullies, and if the situation doesn't improve, talk to your child's teacher or principal about whether a change of classroom would be appropriate. Be your child's advocate always, and help your child find other advocates, whether they are teachers, coaches, boy scouts, girl scouts, church youth groups, or pastors. Children need to hear that they are cared for and valued.

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Lori Savery-Hinze
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