Nearly 10 years ago, author Rachel Simmons wrote a best-selling book called Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Now she has updated her book to include the role of social media and technology.
These days, with frantic Facebook stalking, girls sending thousands of text messages a month and sometimes sleeping with their cell phones under their pillows, bullies have new ways to reach into girls' worlds.
"You can't really talk about girls anymore without talking about the role of social media in their lives," Simmons tells All Things Considered co-host Michele Norris. "For many girls, technology is not just what connects them, but it's part of their relationships. So many girls will say, 'I don't exist if I'm not on Facebook.' It's a huge part of how they navigate their lives."
Simmons, who also helps run the Girls Leadership Institute summer camp, says that girls don't have a lot of communications skills when they're teenagers, so they lean on social media to navigate their conflicts.
"If I'm upset with you and we're both in eighth grade and I don't have the tools to tell you that, I'm going to get on my cell phone. And because I'm not looking you in the eye, I'm going to say terrible things to you," she says. "And if I go on Facebook and I say nasty things on your public page, other girls start to see it — and if they want to get involved, they can add what they feel. And the target begins then to feel that not only does everyone hate me, but I can see that. Everyone can see it. And I can't go home, I can't hide."
Here are some tips that Simmons offers to parents of teenage girls (you can read these in fuller detail on the excerpt):
- Be a good example and don't spend all of your own time on your cell phone or social media. Also, it's important to start saying, "No."
- Don't let your child sleep with her cell phone. "Give her a stuffed animal," Simmons says.
- Have a cell-phone parking area, where all cell phones go at meal time, homework time and at the end of the day.
- And tell girls not to share their passwords with their best friends. "You can tell your daughter, 'If worst comes to worst, blame it on me. Tell your friend I made you change your password and keep it private,'" Simmons says.
MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.
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NORRIS: Today, we're talking online bullying. Author Rachel Simmons has thought a lot about bullying among girls. In 2002, she wrote a best-selling book about the hidden culture of aggression in girls. It was called "Odd Girl Out." And back then, technology had little impact on the subject.
But these days, with frantic Facebook stalking, girls sending thousands of text messages a month and sometimes even sleeping with their cell phones under their pillows, bullies have new ways to reach into girls' worlds.
Now Rachel Simmons has updated her book and she's with us now to explain how online bullying especially affects girls, and what girls and their parents can do about this. Welcome to the program.
RACHEL SIMMONS: Thank you.
NORRIS: Why did you decide to update the book?
SIMMONS: Well, you can't really talk about girls anymore without talking about the role of social media in their lives. For many girls, technology is not just what connects them, but it's part of their relationships. And so, many girls will say, I don't exist if I'm not on Facebook. It's a huge part of how they navigate their lives.
NORRIS: One of the things that is enjoyable about your book is that you have a lot of tales from the front line. You talked to a lot of teenage girls for the first edition, and then again for the updated edition. Share with us some of the stories that the girls shared with you about some of their worst online stories about bullying.
SIMMONS: Well, I think part of what happens is that girls, because they don't have a lot of communication skills in the real world, lean on social media to navigate their challenges and their conflicts. And so, if I'm upset with you and we're both in eighth grade and I don't have the tools to tell you that, I'm going to get on my cell phone. And because I'm not looking you in the eye, I'm going to say terrible things to you.
And if I go on Facebook and I say nasty things on your public page, other girls start to see it. And if they want to get involved, they can add what they feel. And the target then begins to feel that not only does everyone hate me, but I can see that. Everyone can see it. And I can't go home, I can't hide from this. I can't close the door on my house and be away and be safe.
NORRIS: Is there one particular story that really stays with you?
SIMMONS: You know, I think the story of a girl who was perceived by another girl stealing a boyfriend. And she received scores of messages all night long, vicious messages. For so many girls and children, period, you don't think it can end. You can't see a time where your phone won't be buzzing. And so, she actually attempted to take her own life because she really felt helpless. And this is a story we continue to see in the headlines.
NORRIS: You know, you note that social media can bring out the worst in all of us, adults included. So what can adults do to turn this around, to try to protect children or control this in some way?
SIMMONS: Well, you're exactly right. It brings out the worst in us and therefore we've got to look at our own habits of social media use. How many times have I watched children with their parents, and their parents are deeply engaged in their cell phones and not paying attention to their children? Certainly parents need to look at themselves. I think it's also important to start saying no and not believing that this technology tidal wave is just coming, and you have to give into it.
NORRIS: Now, you had some other advice that was included in the book about where to keep the cell phone, when a child can use the cell phone. Let's tick through some of that.
SIMMONS: Definitely. Your child should not be sleeping with her cell phone. Give her a stuffed animal. I once met a mom who said to me that she slept with both of her teenage children's laptops underneath her pillow at night, because it was the only way she knew that they wouldn't come and steal them. And I think you've got to do whatever you can do. If you don't trust your child, you've got to keep her out of trouble by sometimes taking things away.
NORRIS: That doesn't necessarily sound comfortable. But I guess it worked for her.
SIMMONS: I guess it worked for her. It's a last resort. I don't suggest it as a first step.
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NORRIS: You also say that it's a good idea to create a cell phone parking area, a place in the home where all cell phones - including those belonging to the parents - should be parked at the end of the day.
SIMMONS: Exactly. Mealtimes, times where the family is together, homework time. Last I checked, you don't need to text in order to do your homework. So, I can tell you, having just spent the summer with many girls, at the Girl's Leadership Institute summer camp that I help run, the girls talk about how they don't know how to say to their friends pay attention to me, stop texting. Having those girls not be online for their summer, they actually thank us.
They say, you know, it's good to be offline. We can do a great service to them by simply showing them that time offline actually really is healthy.
NORRIS: I used to tell girls don't share mascara or lip gloss. Now you tell them don't share your password.
SIMMONS: Oh, yes. Let's add password to mascara and lip gloss. You know, a lot of girls think you're my best friend and I want to share everything with you, and I'm going to share that password. And what I say to girls is you've got to treat your password like a credit card. That is not something you share with a close friend. And so, it's a great way to teach girls to set boundaries and say no. And you can tell your daughter: If worst comes to worst, blame it on me. Tell your friend I made you change your password and keep it private.
NORRIS: Rachel Simmons, thanks so much.
SIMMONS: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's Rachel Simmons. She's the author of "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls." It was first published in 2002, and it's now been revised and updated for the digital world. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.