How Friendship & Other Weapons Came to Life
This morning, an interviewer asked me how the idea for Friendship & Other Weapons came to be. Thought it was worth sharing with you as well…
My previous book, How to Be Angry, started with the fundamental premise that anger is OK; its 15-session curriculum is all about giving children, tweens and teens specific assertive skills to express their anger in constructive, relationship-building ways. After writing the book, it became obvious to me that there is a large group of young people who are shut out from this basic presupposition that anger is a normal, natural human experience. Millions of young girls in the United States grow up immersed in a social universe in which “being angry” is equated with “being bad” or, at best, not “being nice.”
Under intense pressure to conform to social norms, young girls stifle their feelings of anger at being slighted, mistreated, excluded, humiliated, and bullied. As developmental psychologist, Nicholas Long points out, however, “nothing is more powerful than an unexpressed thought over time” (Long, Long & Whitson, 2009). Social suffocation does not change the existence or intensity of angry feelings, but it does impact how the anger is expressed. When “Girl World” norms dictate that anger cannot be voiced directly, this powerful emotion is often expressed in ruthlessly passive aggressive ways, with relationships (and exclusion from them) as the ultimate weapon). The cruel, cruel world of relational aggression, aka: girl bullying, is born.
And thus, so was my third book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying. Friendship & Other Weapons is about breaking the code of silence that governs conflicts in Girl World and encouraging young girls to speak up when it comes to expressing their anger and confronting incidents of relational aggression. If today’s culture of girl bullying relies on silence, Friendship & Other Weapons’ strategy is to fortify elementary school-aged girls with the confidence and skills to speak out loudly against relational aggression in all of its many forms.
Bullying peaks in the middle school years. One study shows that 91% of kids in grades 4-8 report being the victims of bullying. There are several great resources out there to help parents and professionals understand and cope with bullying in the middle school and high school years. I wrote Friendship & Other Weapons to fill the void of resources for younger kids, with the understanding that if bullying peaks in middle school, it must have its roots in the elementary school years. If we can give young girls the ability to recognize the red flag of relational aggression and the skills to cope with it effectively, perhaps we can head off much of this painful phenomena in its earliest forms.
The hands-on activities and real-world discussions in this prevention curriculum teach participants to recognize hallmark behaviors of girl bullying, from texting insults to spreading online rumors, to good, old-fashioned lunch table exclusion, and to respond to these indirect assaults in effective, head-on ways. Friendship & Other Weapons is based on creating safe, open forums in which young girls can talk, learn, exchange ideas, compare experiences, and practice new skills for directly confronting girl bullying whenever and wherever they recognize it.