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‘Queen Bee’ Author Rosalind Wiseman on Bullying’s New Realities

Bullying is back in the headlines, as it is all too often, with the suicide of a teenager who was victimized by her schoolmates. Nine of them were charged last week with felonies. More can be read about it in this Sisterhood post. The Sisterhood spoke with author Rosalind Wiseman, whose 2002 book “Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence and the movie based on it, “Mean Girls,” crystallized in popular culture the notion of girls who bully and are bullied. Wiseman, the mother of two sons, ages 7 and 9, lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen: What has changed about bullying in the years since you wrote your book?

Rosalind Wiseman: What has changed is that girls are being marketed to in a way that tries to make them act older, rather than to actually be more mature. They’re marketed at to be more adolescent in their dress and their attitude. What we need to do is teach kids to be more compassionate, patient and considerate, but the trend is trying to create kids with worst attributes of the teen years

Have other things also changed?

I rewrote the book and the new edition came out in October because things have changed so much. I added chapters about technology, about how these things affect tweens, and a chapter on boys.

How does the bullying you originally looked at in teens manifest in younger kids?

Kids can be nasty on Club Penguin and Webkinz. They’ll use another child’s password and take all their furniture. I see this in kids who are 7, 8, 9 years old.

How has technology changed bullying?

Eighty percent of kids have cell phones, and many have them with internet access, so firewalls (put up on school networks) are irrelevant. Schools will say kids can’t get on Facebook or YouTube on school computers, but in the hallways they’ll take embarrassing pictures of people and forward them, and send anonymous nasty things to each other. It’s amazing kids get any work done at all. Of course they’re also setting up drug deals by cell phone.

What can parents do to teach their children not to bully?

Sit down with your kids and say: “You don’t just get to have a cell phone, it’s a huge privilege. If you use it to demean or humiliate people, like forward embarrassing pictures, I’m taking it away and will make you earn it back through chores you’ll hate. If you forward something, I think of it just as if you created the content.”

We should pay more attention to the small things that happen in school, because it’s like when police say that the whole community policing thing is about paying attention to broken windows. The small indignities are important because the large ones don’t happen without the small ones happening first.

What wisdom does Judaism bring to bear on these issues?

Judaism is there for the taking, a framework for how to behave and conduct yourself with a moral compass of social justice. If we don’t do that as Jews, what does it really mean to be a Jew?

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