I recently had the most real conversation of my reign as Miss Wisconsin USA with two girls who must have been in the 7th or 8th grade. I was visiting a middle school to give one of my usual presentations about setting goals, living your dreams and choosing to be positive at an age where bullying just seems easier. Afterwards, in the lunch room these two bright-eyed beauties approached me and presented me a question I had never been asked…but boy, did it get me thinking.
Why is it that you are so beautiful and all the boys in our school listened to you and were so respectful of you when you were talking, they were calm and kind, no one made rude comments but to us they are always disrespectful and sometimes just mean?
And immediately, just like that, in a split second I was thrust back to middle school myself, there is a reason I talk to this age group and this was it. Suddenly my life advice could mean something. So I sat up straight and launched into my brief but hopefully lasting rant.
I was treated the same way, most girls in middle school are! Is it right? No. Is it OK? No. Is it part of everyone growing up and learning to build friendships and relationship? YES. Is it likely a boys way of getting a girls attention? 100% YES… but do you have to accept rudeness and mockery and cruelty? NO.NEVER.NOT EVEN ONE TIME!
So I told the girls to stand-tall, be strong and never let a boys words or actions get the best of them. I explained how even though it is easy to cry, to be cruel back or to simply go and tell on a someone for being disrespectful, the best course of action you can take is to not allow it in your life. Like all things hurtful or mean, the effect of the action is only meaningful if it elicits a response that the tormentor was seeking. I shared the story of being booed once at a pep assembly by a large group of nasty boys because I had recently broken up with one of their friends. I felt like running from the gymnasium but I didn’t, I did my part with a smile on my face and simply kept going. Once a boy was a jerk to me and I didn’t speak to him for a good three years, until he grew out of this unfortunate-jerky-phase. That is not a scientific phase of puberty but I believe it exists. He came around and later apologized for all the mistreatment when we were younger.
It is hard advice…not allowing your feelings to be hurt is a nearly impossible task, but choosing to not allow someone the satisfaction of slowly beating down your self-confidence is a necessity, in middle school and well beyond.
I told them that being that strong brings with it a new set of challenges. People will call you cold, snotty and much worse. People, especially mean ones hate to be ignored. But in the end the right people (and in the case of dating, the right boy) will rise to the surface. When you are older and have gone through all of the growing pains, those boys will start to respect your strength, your conviction and your independence. They are the people you will want in your life.