GirlPower is a friendship program that inspires “tween” girls to feel empowered, and develop a strong sense of self, while also learning how to manage the most important thing to them—their friendships. GirlPower is an internationally recognized program with licensed GirlPower Facilitators in the US, Canada, and Australia who teach the GirlPower curriculum in schools and communities. Friendology 101, a six week curriculum for grades 3 to 6, has been adopted in schools around the world.
A key element of GirlPower’s curriculum is teaching students the difference between normal conflict and bullying. One of the distinctions that GirlPower helps girls to make is between Friendship Fires (normal conflicts between friends) and Mean-on-Purpose (harrasment). By establishing a common language, GirlPower also helps students and teachers better communicate solutions
FRIENDSHIP FIRE OR MEAN-ON-PURPOSE?
Girls learn two strategies in GirlPower: How to put out Friendship Fires and what to do when someone is Mean-On-Purpose (e.g. bullying). Girls often mistakenly believe that any conflict with a friend is a Friendship Fire. The difference really lies in intent—was it a misunderstanding or was she really trying to hurt your feelings? Sometimes a friend can be Mean-On-Purpose too! Here’s a common example, along with GirlPower’s step-by-step approach:
- Your friend starts calling you the nickname, “Sweatpants,” because you always wear comfy pants to school. At first, you think it’s fun and it makes you feel closer to your friend. You both laugh about it and think it’s cool. After time, it feels less funny and more like she’s making fun of you. You start to feel offended and it’s really bugging you.THIS IS A FRIENDSHIP FIRE. In GirlPower, we teach girls to (1) Retell the situation, and (2) Explain how it made you feel. This is a conversation.
- You ask to talk to your friend and let her know that the nickname is actually making you feel bad. Through the conversation, you explain how the nickname is making you feel and you respectfully ask her to not call you “Sweatpants” anymore. The next day, your friend continues calling you the nickname, fully knowing you don’t like it. THIS IS MEAN-ON-PURPOSE. In GirlPower, we teach girls to say their Quick Comeback in a strong voice and then walk away. This is not a conversation.
- When your friend calls you the nickname again, knowing it’s hurtful, you say your Quick Comeback: “Not cool.” You walk away and try to keep your focus on something that makes you happy. At this point, we would let girls know that if this is a healthy friendship, she would respect you enough to stop calling you the nickname. If she continues calling you the name, it’s clear you will lose trust and respect, and this friendship would be in the unhealthy zone of the Friend-o-meter. The GirlPower advice: Spend less time with her. Friendships change…and that’s okay.
Another mistake girls sometimes make is assuming that Mean-On-Purpose behavior is automatically “bullying” (a term that is often misused). In this case, we couldn’t necessarily say that this girl is “being a bully.” To identify bullying, look for Mean-On-Purpose and ongoing; it’s in the toxic zone of the Friend-o-meter and isn’t going anywhere.
HOW TO HELP YOUNG GIRLS THROUGH FRIENDSHIP FIRES.
Helping young girls deal with the rollercoaster world of friendship can sometimes be complicated, overwhelming, frustrating, exhausting—or all of the above. As parents and educators, we often wonder if we’re giving the right advice. Here are a few basic tips to coach the tween girl in your life through Friendship Fires.
- DO NOT say “Just ignore her!” As much as you’d like her to ignore the other girl, she can’t.
- DO ask, “Did you stand up for yourself?” Impress upon her the importance of confronting the Fire and standing up for herself.
- DO NOT say, “She’s just jealous!” This statement offers no comfort or tools for putting out the Fire.
- DO say, “You can only control one person – and that’s you! What can you do to make this situation better?” Take the focus off the other girl and put the power back in her hands.
- DO NOT say, “You are not allowed to be your friend anymore!” She will resent this demand.
- DO explain to her that sometimes creating some distance and taking time ‘off’ is all friends need to improve the friendship. If she has not confronted the Fire, role-play with her so she can practice. Encourage her to do things she loves.
- DO NOT say, “This just something all girls must go through!” This statement tells a girl she must suffer through and she is helpless. We cannot normalize the behaviors of “mean girls.”
- DO say, “You do not or should not be friends with someone who makes you feel bad. Surround yourself with good friends!” Let her know that she is in control of her life and trust and respect are ‘must haves’ when it comes to friendship!
- DO NOT get emotionally invested. If you’re a parent, do not call the other girl’s parents or storm into the school expecting someone to consequence the other girl. The reality is they might be back to “Besties by tomorrow!
- DO, instead, ask her what you can do to help. Just being supportive might be enough. Empathize. Hug. Listen. Share your experiences. Leave her little notes in her lunchbox. Tell her she can get through this. Let her know she’s not alone. Show her love
Dana Kerford is a teacher, friendship expert and founder of GirlPower, Inc. As a teacher, Dana witnessed the intensity and complexity of friendships for young girls, and was inspired by her students to research relationship aggression, conflict-resolution, and the inner workings of female relationships. She developed and launched the first ever GirlPower six-week program in 2009. The program teaches students how to foster a female community of kindness and support in which girls learn to have a voice in their friendships. In 2012, Dana released her first book, The Friendship Project, a workbook for parents and tween girls.