Rosalind Wiseman - Complete Interview pt2

Rosalind Wiseman on @katiecouric
COURIC: All right. Let's talk about boys.


COURIC: How do they fit into the equation for adolescent girls? And how have the relationships between boys and girls changed?

WISEMAN: Well, I think that one of the biggest things for me is that--I mean, the thing that comes to mind is that when I first started doing this work, it felt like the bullying was more girl to girl and boy to boy. And now it feels much more like a free-for-all. That boys are-- and boys and girls are ganging up on a girl. Or boys and girls are ganging up on a boy. And that they're using the same name-- they're using the same kinds of mechanisms to go after people. So, there was a kid that I was just--

COURIC: When you say mechanisms you mean sort of like--

WISEMAN: Words. Going-- Facebook-- well, the types of words. The types of-- of attacks that are happening. Or-- and using Facebook, of course. But like there was-- so recently what comes to mind is there was a kid who came up to me after I was working at a school, really handsome kid. Very good athlete. He was a cross-country athlete. And he had gotten into trouble with a girl and a boy on his team because they thought that he had snitched on them. That they didn't go to practice. They had gone to somebody's house and watched television. And so, what they were doing was attacking him on Facebook. With-- I mean, just all different kinds of stuff. Like "You're such a fag. You're so gay. You're so this. You're so that."

COURIC: Which by the way is--

WISEMAN: Just destroying...

COURIC: --so unacceptable in terms of language.

WISEMAN: For so many different reasons it's unacceptable.

COURIC: Yeah. Yeah.

WISEMAN: Plus it's like what? So, you like-- you're sexually attracted to people of the same sex, because you told somebody they weren't at practice. Like it doesn't even logically make sense. So-- and not only is it wrong, not only is it offensive, but-- but it's also like completely-- it just doesn't-- it just doesn't work, right? So, the boy-- but the boys and girls are going after each other in a-- together. And that's one of the things that I'm seeing. And this--

COURIC: --more bullying that-- that-- that are boys and girls--

WISEMAN: Right. They're doing it together.

COURIC: --you know, ganging up on kids.

WISEMAN: Right. It is really-- I mean, I could go on and on about like volleyball teams. Where the new girl-- this is what I'm dealing with right now. Where a new girl comes onto the volleyball team. And it's sort of like welcome to the volleyball team. The older girls are telling everybody in the school she has herpes. I mean, it's like, "What are you doing?"

COURIC: Well, what-- well, what are-- what is the coach doing? And what-- and-- and that's-- that's actually an important question I have is, what can parents do when their kids are either bullies or probably more prevalent targets? When they're being treated in such a bad way? Because sometimes it makes it-- it just exacerbates the situation.

WISEMAN: Sure. Sure.

COURIC: If you have a parent get involved. Or-- even a teacher get involved.


COURIC: But at the same time, it does turn into Lord of the Flies.

WISEMAN: Well, it sort of-- I-- I-- the way I look at it is it's the misery that you can control versus the misery you cannot control. So, you were asking me earlier about like what happens when you get targeted? What do you do? And as a parent, what I want the parent to say is three things. I want them to say, "I'm so sorry. Thank you for telling me." 'Cause it's a huge-- from what you're saying, it's a huge leap of faith for them to talk to the adults about it. Huge.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: Third is, "You and I are gonna work on this together to figure it out." And your kids probably gonna say something like, "Okay, but you have to promise not to do anything or say anything or anything like that. You can't-- don't-- I'm gonna tell you this. But you can't do anything about it." And I really want parents to be able to say, "Look, I would love to be able to make that promise, but I can't. 'Cause you might tell me something that I have to do something about. So-- but I will promise you this." And this actually goes back to the privacy and respect thing. "Is that I will never blindside you. When you and I decide who to go to for help, you and I are gonna figure out who to go to together. So that you're never gonna be surprised. You're never gonna be blindsided. You are part of this process. And I might have to make you make decisions you don't want to make." Which I think kids actually can deal with. Right? This is the parents being parents. That we can say-- if we're clear to them, and we're-- and we're honest. Then I think kids can deal with things that they don't-- that we think, "Oh, they're never gonna be able to deal with that." Or that's--

COURIC: I know you're right, because people-- that I think as you said, it's a huge leap of faith. And then to actually do something is absolutely terrifying to these kids. But what if-- can you-- I mean--

WISEMAN: That's one..

COURIC: Can you-- can you go to parents and say to them, "You know, this is a real issue. Your child-- can we talk about this?"

WISEMAN: Oh, sure.

COURIC: Because it's really hard. (LAUGH) 'Cause some parents are in complete denial.

WISEMAN: Yes, they are.

COURIC: And your kids behave like this. You know, if someone came to me, I would be so mortified. And I would say, "What can we do?" I would make my-- you know, (LAUGH) I would go crazy probably the other way.

WISEMAN: Right. Right.

COURIC: But so many parents just can't accept that their child is doing anything wrong, which is so annoying.

WISEMAN: Yeah. Yeah. It is annoying. And it-- you can imagine - I am-- I am-- told that.

COURIC: Oh, I'm sure.

WISEMAN: There's a couple things. There's a couple things about that. One is-- I do think the kid needs at the best of his or her ability to be able to confront the bully or the person who is-- even if they're a bystander that they need to speak to the person one on one first. Second-- and then what they're gonna do is they're gonna say exactly what they don't like. They're gonna say exactly what they want. And they're gonna say, "Look, I basically have the right. Or that person has the right to be in this school without being treated like dirt. I have the right to be treated with dignity." Now it is not like the bully's gonna say, "Oh my gosh, I am so-- you're so right. I didn't realize how horrible I was being. I am gonna stop. I'm totally gonna stop." (LAUGH) They're not gonna do that. They're gonna roll their eyes. At like the best, they're gonna do is they're gonna roll their eyes. 'Cause they have to. What I'm saying to kids is-- and they can get this. Is "You either say nothing." And sometimes parents say, "Just ignore it." "Just ignore it" is not helpful. Because when kids come to you with this, it's not like they've just been thinking about it for a second. They've been thinking about telling you for like weeks. And so when you say, "Just ignore it," it's like--

COURIC: If not months.

WISEMAN: Right, if not months. So, it's also that you-- it's like saying like you have no ability to change this. So, that's what I'm-- it-- it is the choice of misery that you can control or you stand up to someone and say, "You know what-- I know you're-- you might not totally-- you're not going to probably change your behavior. That's not why I'm doing this. I'm doing this because you are hurting me. But I'm still strong enough to be able to stand here and tell you this. And I can deal with that. And I have the competency to be able to do that."

COURIC: Okay, so you do that. And nothing changes. And it gets even worse.

WISEMAN: Or it gets worse.

COURIC: So, then what do you do?

WISEMAN: Then, if you've got a pattern of behavior where the kid-- so, they've tried that. Then what you and-- and your child can sit down and say, "Okay, what's my next-- what's the next layer." Right? So, the next layer is either the teacher, the-- you know, the-- you know, the supervisor, maybe the parent. But the problem with the parents is-- is that we can't-- it's so hard not to go up to the parent and say something like, "Do you know what kind of child you raised?" Right? "Like do you--" I mean, this kind of like full on attack on the-- on the parent. And the parent--

COURIC: Apparently, that's--

WISEMAN: And they're gonna get defensive.

COURIC: --that's not what you would have recommended.

WISEMAN: That would not-- that is not what I rec--

COURIC: Say "There's a problem. And I really want us to work it out together."

WISEMAN: No, this-- yeah. This is-- what I would say is "Look, we've got a problem that I think you really would want to know. This is really uncomfortable. But my child is reporting to me that they are walking down the hallway and they're having things thrown at them. Or they're being laughed at. Or they are being called various names. Or they're-- there's a Facebook attack." Whatever it is. That it is said really clearly and concisely. And then you say, "I need your help with this to fix this problem." And you are, again, probably not gonna get what you want from this parent. I mean, you might. There are lots of parents. Actually, the herpes situation got fixed actually quite well. The parents handled it. And they did a beautiful job. And the school did a beautiful job. The coach got involved. They did a beautiful job.

COURIC: Thank God.

WISEMAN: There are positive stories out there.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: There's a lot.

COURIC: Which is nice. Did you say why this behavior, this kind of targeting, bystander, queen bee behavior is happening in earlier, earlier age?

WISEMAN: Yeah. I mean, I think-- I mean, I think in general-- I mean, I think-- that kids are getting older and more-- you know, getting--

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: You know, more adolescent.

COURIC: And that parents are kind of encouraging that.


COURIC: Any other reasons, though?

WISEMAN: Well, I mean, I think overall-- you know, I think-- I come at this from a political theory kind of viewpoint. And I really-- you know, people like to be in groups. And they like to-- align themselves in groups. And there's nothing wrong with that. But they often feel that being in a group and your alignment, your feeling of loyalty to the group is 'cause you're not somebody else. And you feel this loyalty to the group, and you feel reinforced in the group, but by saying, "I'm not you." And that really is like--

COURIC: how can you change --

WISEMAN: --the basis--

COURIC: --the dynamic though?

WISEMAN: Well, that is the basis of discrimination and bigotry across forever.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: And so-- and that really--

COURIC: The clannish behavior.

WISEMAN: --the-- right. And that is-- I really feel it's like the Achilles heel of humanity. It's like we identify being proud of who we are in our group, because we're not somebody else.

COURIC: Well, how can-- can schools and-- and parents do more to teach tolerance and inclusion and the fact that even if you are different or even if you're with kind of a groovier group-- (LAUGH) that's kind of an outdated word. I just stopped saying, "I'm jiggy with it." (LAUGH) My daughter-- anyway. But-- you know, is there-- is there a way to-- or is that such a primal instinct?

WISEMAN: It is primal. But just because we've been doing it. Just because people have been mean to each other for forever doesn't mean that you don't challenge it.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: And doesn't mean you don't work for change. I mean, that's the thing that's so frustrating about all these hazing things. And all-- people just say like, "Well, this is stuff that we've always done." Well, just because it's-- you've always done it, doesn't mean you actually say, "Wait a minute, we need to do this better." Because if that was the case, you know, Black people would still be sitting at lunch-- you know, wouldn't be sitting at lunch counters equally with White people. I mean, we still would be-- you know, we have a long ways to go. But I really feel like-- like families and schools are either sanctuaries from this culture or they're reinforcers of the culture. And the compass for me is that we really look at how best can we be mindful, in these situations, these-- so, these are moments of social justice. And so, how can we in relevancy to young people show what social justice and social injustice looks like. And so, in our schools and in our families, that's what we're gonna be looking for. And so, we're not just saying like, "Be kind to people." We're-- and we're not just saying, "Be friends." 'Cause kids hate that stuff. Like "Don't bully. And be friends. And be nice." Who's gonna listen to that? This is about competency and about having mastery over yourself in very difficult situations. And when you're still mad at somebody and you think of the perfect thing to say. And you don't know what to say. And then you like lose your words in front of somebody. And how horribly frustrating that is. That's go-- this is gonna help you. Living in this way, in a mindful way is going to help you put those words.

COURIC: I want to get to-- real quickly, 'cause I know we're almost out of time, but I could talk to your for hours. 'Cause I could talk to everyone for hours it seems. But I want to get to some of the-- some of the-- the mommy blogger questions.

WISEMAN: Yeah, sure. Right.

COURIC: Real quick.

WISEMAN: Do you really say "get jiggy with it"?

COURIC: I used to. I-- really-- just I really did-- no, I did it to annoy them. (LAUGH) And try to be cool. And laughing at myself. I didn't actually think i was cool in saying that. I did it 'cause I thought it was funny. Okay, so, mommy blogger Karen has a daughter who's hard of hearing and has to work extra hard in school-- this broke my heart, to get all the information down. And then comes home with a pile of books and assignments. Karen says, "My daughter wants to know why there's so much homework every day."

WISEMAN: Oh, Lord.

COURIC: "Where's the time for family and fu-- fun?" You know, I have an eighth grader. I have never seen her so stressed out about her workload. And-- I mean, at what point do-- do schools say, "This is insanity?"

WISEMAN: Well, I would hope soon.

COURIC: Do you think that kids get too much homework?

WISEMAN: I-- well, I have to tell you. Where my kids go to school, they get-- I have a fourth grader and a first grader. And they are doing-- I'm really happy with what they're doing. They get a package on Fridays. And they're responsible every day for doing a little bit. But that's teaching competency and it's teaching to be responsible.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: So, I-- I like the way they're doing it. But I would say-- I mean, I believe strongly with what she's saying. About you need some time for family. And you need some time to relax and just be with each other. And-- and if homework's getting in the way of that, and I work-- obviously-- I mean, I work with lots of schools and I'm just not buying it. That tons and tons of homework at night is really helping kids and making them more competent.

COURIC: I thought it was interesting. I went to parents visiting day at my daughter's school. And the math teacher said, "Your daughter should not be spending more than a half hour on math."

WISEMAN: Absolutely.

COURIC: Which I thought was great. Because I think some kids could spend three hours-- some kids could get it done in 20 minutes.

WISEMAN: Well, there's also really compelling evidence that the more you do it, and if you're doing it wrong, in a frustrated way, then it's making-- it's reinforcing your feeling that you can't do it.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: So, it's not helping.

COURIC: I agree. All right. This is from sweatpants mom. (LAUGH) It is--

WISEMAN: Is that--

COURIC: She says, "The queen bees of the middle school hallways grow up to be the coworkers who try to steal your job and help themselves to your lunch in the office refrigerator. Do the mean girls of third period gym grow up to be the women who take over all the good spots in yoga class?" I think sweatpants mom raises a point that you raise in your book.

WISEMAN: And here's one of the ways that you can-- that I always tell this with parents. Is that sometimes when their kid is being ostracized, they'll say-- for some-- for some reason that makes-- like that--there's no reason. Somehow overnight my child stopped having friends. And one of the things that parents don't realize is-- is that that's the way they look at it, right? And they'll-- and parents will say, "Well, my child is creative and imaginative and fun. And that is why no one likes my kid." That-- I got that recently from a parent. And I had to say really respectfully, "Really, honestly, I don't think that's the way the fifth graders are lookin' at it. They're not looking at, 'Oh, I really don't like that girl, 'cause she's creative and fun and imaginative. That is-- I hate her for that reason.'" They all-- when people are mean, one of the trickiest things about it is they think they have very good reason for it. And they often think that they're justified in their behavior. So, I think that's one of the important things for parents to realize. Now, it could be-- not taking away from the pain your child's in, but when parents don't see it for that. They don't-- they just say, "For no reason, this is happening." Then you cannot see the problem for what it is.

COURIC: Right. So, you have to be--

WISEMAN: And that's the most important--

COURIC: --kind of honest. And-- and that's kind of--

WISEMAN: It's really hard.

COURIC: --hard to do as a parent.

WISEMAN: It's really hard. And if you have the baggage that you're talking about, then that gets even harder to be able to see it. And so, you just-- it's literally like through-- a maze. In fact, you just cannot see what's in front of you.

COURIC: Don't you think bullies can sniff out weakness, too? That if-- it-- that--


COURIC: That sometimes if-- if-- if you look like you can be teased and-- and treated cruelly, then they'll take advantage? It is sort of a Darwinian phenomenon.


COURIC: And that's--

WISEMAN: But-- and one of the things that's really troubling to me is that what I've seen-- even more so in the last like 18 months is kids who are sort of stars. Who are very good at sports. Who like-- a girl or a boy who's like really attractive, really good at sports. That you wouldn't think is a target for bullying. That they are.

COURIC: Because people are jealous?

WISEMAN: And because they're going after them. And Facebook makes that so much easier.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: And then they feel like-- I was just talking to a kid, who was a junior in high school. And these-- group-- two girls had created a whole website about why they hated her. And they-- actually, the school expelled those children. But when I saw her, her face was like-- she was obscuring her entire face and her hair. And she could not-- I said, "What are you good at?" I was like-- I knew it. I was like, "What are you good at?" And she's like, "Well, I guess I'm good at soccer." It's like, "Really? Are you good at soccer?" She's like, "Well, yeah, I'm-- I'm pretty good." So, what we're doing is kid are actually-- even though they're in this very competitive world. That around their peers, they can't say what they're good at. Because it's like, "Oh, you think you're all that? Well, then I'm gonna go trash you." So, it's really-- it's gotten to be pretty complicated.

COURIC: I want to do one-- one other question. 'Cause I thought this was actually-- a really good question. Even though there are a lot of them. And I'm sorry for people who wrote in and I can't get to tall of them. But Jessica writes-- "I have a daughter where's three and a half. She's already a sassy mass of hyper-femininity." (LAUGH) I like that. "Sassy mass."

WISEMAN: Sassy mass.

COURIC: "Concerned with being so-- as beautiful as a princess. I've noticed that she takes a very strong leadership role."


COURIC: I think that means she's bossy. "In group play dates and preschool. Yikes! I wanted to raise a strong woman, but I'm playing I can handle her. But I think the biggest question is how is-- how important is it to reign in little girls," she asks, "with diva tendencies."

WISEMAN: Oh, sure.

COURIC: In other words, how do you raise a strong girl--


COURIC: --who's not an overbearing, bossy, obnoxious person.

WISEMAN: Yeah. Yeah. This is-- in a new-- in the new queen bees book in the chapter I did on younger girls, I asked the girls about this. And they said, "Well, there's a difference between being-- a girly-girl and a drama queen." And I was, "Really?" And they said, "Well, sometimes you can have both. But that's like having your house on fire." I'm like, "Really?" (LAUGH) And then they said-- and they said, "Yeah, like second grade is like when everything explodes. Like everything among the girls explodes." I would say for this parent that you have to-- it is wonderful to have leadership qualities. And you do not want to dampen those down. You just have to be able to have that girl channel those leadership qualities for good and not for evil.

COURIC: And you also probably should point them out to her. It's a fine line. Well, she's only three and a half. But at some point, you know, you want to-- "That's great if you want to organize things and encourage kids."


COURIC: "But to be too pushy and-- and to make them and to force them. Then to be threatening. That's not good."

WISEMAN: Well, this is what I would look out for with this mom. If she excludes people from play. Like you don't want to be micromanaging. I do not want to be advocating micromanaging play for kids. But for little kids, they are so good at-- and this is-- and social sciences are backing this up. That, for example, there's a difference between playing and saying, "You can't play with me." Right? That would be something that you need to, you know, be aware of.

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: If she does like secret groups or secret languages as she gets older, like about six and eight. A girl like that, often times, will do like secret languages. Secret languages are never about how much they like everybody else. It's always about how much they don't like everybody else. And that "We're this exclusive little club."

COURIC: Right.

WISEMAN: So, that you would need to discipline or that you would need to hold the child accountable. But you also-- when she does things that are good in leadership, you need to praise that. 'Cause often times what we do is we just focus on the bad leadership qualities, 'cause our-- our baggage is coming up. And we're all nervous about it. Understandably, like this mom is. But when she does things that are positive, you also have to say exact-- it's not like, "Oh, you're a good leader." You have to say specifically what she's doing, about why you like that. And why that is positive leadership, instead of the negative leadership.

COURIC: Well, it's so fun to talk to you, Rosalind.

WISEMAN: I know. Always.

COURIC: Yeah, nice to see you again.

WISEMAN: Always.

COURIC: I should have you go talk to my daughter's school. Because I think it's important-- sometimes I think these issues-- because people do have the attitudes, "Oh, girls will be girls. And this is just the way it's been forever." That-- that I think actually talking about them and addressing them. And I'm doing-- a couple of pieces on teen violence. And how technology would con-- you know, you can harass someone--

WISEMAN: Oh my--

COURIC: --through text messages--


COURIC: And as you, I think, mention in the book, you can text message somebody you-- the entire school hates you.


COURIC: And it's just so devastating for kids. But just even talking about it, and setting some parameters in this new world I think can be invaluable.

WISEMAN: Yeah. And it's also a way to be more relevant. To be relevant to your child. That-- what is more important than that?

COURIC: Nothing.


COURIC: Rosalind, thank you so much.

WISEMAN: Thanks for having me.

COURIC: And by the way, Rosalind's updated and revised book is called "Queen Bees and Wannabes." And it is on sale now. Thank you all for your great questions and comments, especially my friends from the sil-- silicon valley moms group. I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of them. But, you know, I can't go on and on. They get mad at me here. (LAUGH) I just keep going and going. But anyway, I'm Katie Couric. Stay tuned now from-- for a message from our sponsor, Dove. Thanks for watching.