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Words hurt more than sticks and stones

Kristi Pratt. She was the fifth-grade Queen Bee some 30 years ago and for a brief but memorable time was my best friend. Or so I thought.We had sleepovers and pizza night together; we called each other to compare homework and boys; and we sat next to each other in class, passing notes and rolling our eyes. Then one day she dropped me with the flip of her ponytail.To this day I have no idea what I did to bring on her ire, but it was probably something heinous like wearing the wrong kind of skirt or being nice to the chubby girl with glasses, who was the brunt of a lot of jokes. Whatever it was, I was cut out fast and furiously and by lunchtime I was sitting with – gasp! – the “uncool” kids. And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.In last year’s hit movie, “Mean Girls,” the vast underworld of girl power is explored and exploited; all of its nastiness laid bare. Any teenager who saw it laughed at the depiction of their peers; any grown-up who saw it shuddered at the memory of their own “Kristi.” The movie was based on the national bestselling book “Queen Bees & Wannabes,” by Rosalind Wiseman, and is a startling but realistic look at the hormone-riddled life of girls. In her book and in her seminars around the country, Wiseman sets out to tame the ugliness and gossip-mongering – what some psychologists are calling “relational aggression.” In other words, it’s what we’ve always known: boys fight with fists, girls fight with words. The words always cut deeper.Chances are you can look back on your junior high or high school days and conjure up the embarrassment and humiliation of being – at some point – left out. Good. That will serve you well when you stand facing the tear-streaked face of your own daughter someday or – worse – the defiant face of your own Queen Bee.The face of the bully is no longer the big kid with the crew cut out to steal your lunch money. It now includes the pretty girl in a perfect ponytail and Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt. According to Wiseman, and plenty of savvy parents and teachers, kids need to broaden their definition of bullying to include gossip, cliques and social isolation. Wiseman will be in Basalt and Aspen later this month to help kids do just that. As for Kristi and me, I remember taking solace in the fact that most adults I knew didn’t behave like junior high school students. In my mind, the best remedy for the social pecking order of teenagers was a basic understanding that grown-ups didn’t follow the same rules – it gave me hope that it was a phase to be outgrown.I wonder if Kristi ever did. The Aspen Youth Center presents best-selling author Rosalind Wiseman at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Aspen District Theatre. Tickets are $15 each and are on sale at the Wheeler Box Office, 920-5770. Charla Belinski’s column appears every other Sunday in the Post Independent.


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