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From movie screens to schoolyards, mean girls are just not cool. There’s one local woman who is bringing an international movement to the Gold Coast with the hope of specifically stamping out girl-on-girl bullying.

Most of us have seen the teen comedy movie Mean Girls – it’s grossed $130 million worldwide and has a somewhat cult following. Whether you love or loathe Lindsay Lohan, you find yourself loving and loathing her Mean Girls lead character Cady as she navigates typical teenager-dom and the ‘mean girls’ phenomenon. New to her school, Cady finds herself swinging between her nerdy (yet authentic) friends and the “Plastics” – a trio of mean girls who love shopping, clothes, putting others down and, well, themselves.

Wherever you went to school, chances are you also personally knew a clique of Plastics. Maybe there’s even a mean girl or female bully still in your network now? In 2009, two American Film and Television students – Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson – joined forces, having both been affected by female bullying throughout their youth. The young women decided to create change by giving females a platform to speak out about this universal experience. Upon graduating university, Lauren and Molly drove across their country for two months to shoot a documentary about mean girls (or girl-against-girl bullying), called Finding Kind. But what the film has organically turn into is the Kind Campaign. Kind Campaign is a globally recognised not-for-profit organisation that brings healing and awareness to girls about the lasting and detrimental effects of girl-on-girl bullying. It’s a multi-platform movement that has transformed hundreds of thousands of lives, friendships, classrooms and communities around the world. And it’s just hit the Gold Coast.

Kind Campaign Gold Coast ambassador Tamara Collie, 24, knows first hand the effect that girl-on-girl bullying has on a young and impressionable female. She has been that young and impressionable bullied female herself, which is why when Tamara heard about Kind Campaign, this student paramedic from Mermaid Waters just had to join the movement.

“As a 15 year old, I was suffering with depression and I found school a brutal place to be sad. I was bullied all through school. There were girls who even made fake social media accounts in my name. I really struggled,” she recalls. “School and the girls there made my situation worse. I was vulnerable and everything just hurt more.”

Tamara says she found it hard to form healthy relationships with the girls at her school as most were more occupied with gossiping about other girls. She says Kind Campaign is not a treatment for bullying. Importantly, it’s a preventative measure.

“Kind Campaign is specifically for girls and involves holding assemblies in schools,” Tamara explains. “We get the girls together to have a chat about girl-on-girl bullying, why we do it and how its effects can be long lasting and devastating. Then we watch the documentary. After this we get the girls to write out a kind apology, a kind card and a kind pledge. This gives the girls a chance to say sorry for some of their behaviours and pledge to be kinder or do something kind for a girl – maybe a girl who doesn’t have many friends or is picked on.

“This is usually quite an emotional experience for the girls. Many have been affected by girl-on-girl bullying – either as an aggressor or a victim – and it needs to stop. With self esteem issues, eating disorders, suicides and the rise of social media and online bullying, this issue starts as young as prep or primary school.”

 

imageHELP IS AT HAND

Kids Helpline has been operating for 24 years and is Australia’s only 24/7 counselling and support service for young people aged from 5 years up. Interestingly, Kids Helpline manager Tony FitzGerald says evidence suggests that bullying is a learned behaviour and it is critical that parents role model positive behaviours to break the cycle of bullying.

“Parents should be aware of how their behaviour is being observed by their children, not just at home but when watching their kids on the sporting field or driving them to school,” he says. “Too often we see examples of intimidation between adults, road rage or, sadly, physical violence that kids pick up on and mimic in the school yard.” 

Tony says Kids Helpline receives more than 4000 counselling contacts each year from children and young people concerned about bullying. There are also close to 29,000 visits to the Kids Helpline website’s bullying self-help ‘tip sheets’ for children and young people each year. 

“Close to one in five counselling contacts we receive from children aged 5-12 years each year is concerned about bullying,” he says. “We ask that parents not only lead by example by demonstrating respect, but educate themselves about how and where bullying is conducted, including online, and look out for the signs that something might be worrying their child.”

University of Queensland psychologist and Resilience Triple P program coordinator Dr Karyn Healy says girls’ behaviour is harder for teachers and supervising adults to pick up and address because it can be very subtle and difficult for observers to spot.

“For instance, it might be the way a girl looks at another girl or the tone of voice used. It can also be what is not done, for example, not inviting someone to a party,” Karyn says. “In my experience, girls’ bullying can often stem from friendships gone wrong. It could be that a third girl comes into the equation and upsets a best friendship. Or it could be that there is some jealously about boys or achievements. Where friendship is involved it can be all the more hurtful because of the sense of betrayal and loss, and also because friends know exactly how to hurt each other.”

So how can parents best assist their daughters if they are the victims of bullying?

“Being bullied increases risk of depression, however warm family relationships help buffer kids from this emotional aftermath,” says Karyn. “So it may not feel like much, but just being there helps. By being there I mean being a sounding board in good times as well as bad, listening to your daughter and understanding without overreacting, being on her side and offering to help without taking over the problem.”

Tamara says the best part about Kind Campaign is that the assembly is completely free of charge for schools.

“I donate my time as an ambassador and fundraising for Kind Campaign in the US has enabled us to show the documentary here for free,” she says.

Back to Mean Girls – the movie, it’s interesting to note that while Lindsay Lohan first auditioned for the role of Plastics’ leader Regina George, she feared the mean-girl role would harm her burgeoning reputation and so she agreed to play Cady. It’s clear that mean girls are not cool #kindnessrules

Visit www.kindcampaign.com

 

KIDS HELPLINE ANTI-BULLYING TIPS

  • As parents, think about your behaviour and how it impacts on your children
  • Remind bullied children that it is NEVER their fault
  • Tell children that sometimes it’s best to walk away. If they choose to walk away, they should still speak to someone in authority and tell them what happened
  • Keep a record. It can also be helpful to keep a diary of bullying incidents including who was involved, the time it occurred, what happened and who has been told about it. Keep copies of any abusive messages that are sent as they can be used later as evidence
  • Take action. Block bullies from sending messages or emails or stay offline for a while
  • Talk to the experts, such as trained counsellors at Kids Helpline or via www.esafety.gov.au
Belinda Glindemann

Belinda Glindemann  

Belinda knew she was destined for a career in communications and publishing from the age of 11 when her Year 6 teacher introduced her to poster projects and glitter pens. She completed her journalism cadetship in the Whitsundays and went on to hold various newspaper and magazine editor roles across Brisbane in a media career spanning more than a decade. When Belinda's not writing for haven, she runs her own PR agency, kid-wrangles two young daughters and drinks way too much sweet tea.