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Bullying....specifically as it relates to girls

post #1 of 43
Thread Starter 
I'm starting a thread to discuss the subject of bullying, specifically as it relates to girls. I'm observing lots of behavior in girls that I don't like (on the playground and such) and hear about some pretty crappy situations from friends. So I ask several questions:
  • How does it develop?
  • What can we do to protect our children from bullying? What should their response be when someone tries to bully them?
  • How do we empower our children to stand up for others?
post #2 of 43
Thread Starter 
I'll share one event that happened in my life to try to jump start a discussion....


I moved a lot as a kid. I had two alcoholic parents who were mostly functioning as upper middle class parents. In sixth grade gym class a girl, Kelly, told me she didn't like me and right in front of everybody called my mother an alcoholic. That wasn't something that I was comfortable with calling my mom until I was about 18 or 20.

Immediately I started crying, the gym teacher came over asked what had happened and I was bawling and told part of the story. I didn't tell her the whole bit, but I think one of the other girls did. The school kept Kelly home from the big 6th grade field trip the next day. When I found out that was planned for Kelly, I lied and told my teacher that it hadn't happened, it wasn't that big of a deal and that they should let Kelly go on the field trip. I desperately wanted to fit in -- I wanted Kelly to like me, I wanted some friends. And not only did I want friends, I wanted cool kid friends.

As far as I know they never called my mom. My own mom didn't mention receiving any phone call or even know it had happened. I didn't tell her.

I wish that someone had contacted my parents. I wish my parents had talked to me about the whole situation. More importantly I wish I had had the confidence to walk into the new school and not feel like I constantly didn't fit in.
post #3 of 43
There are parts of that story that are very familiar to me, Kerc. I too would trade justice for fitting in.

When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade there was a girl who was a ringleader of me and one other friend. Here was her game: make me feel special, get me to join her and ignore the other girl (complete with mean stares and ugly remarks, although admittedly i was bad at it because I knew it was wrong), then, when I wasn't expecting it, she'd turn on me, get the other girl to ignore me and thus starts a new cycle. I hated it. Whenever it was my turn to be shunned, I would often claim I had a stomach ache and asked to be picked up from school.

Eventually my mom caught on and I believe she had a conversation with the teacher but I was also reluctant to sell out my "friend" - honestly, I wanted to be liked but I also feared some retribution from her.

Meanwhile, I tried to make friends with others who didn't do this sort of thing and were considered not popular and looking back on it, I had a lot of fun with those friends and wish I had valued that more. I was made fun of by the mean girl for hanging out with them, especially during my shun time.

Ugh just thinking about it all makes my stomach turn. I desperately want to save my 5 yo dd from this bully stuff but I know it starts with strength from within.

I wonder sometimes why I don't have more self esteem. I think that would have gone a long way for me standing up for myself. I come from a loving home but I think my parents may have erred on the side of trying to root good behavior and manners than standing up for myself and being strong. I'm sure there can be both but I grew up fearing punishment for wrong doing, even though there was never any hitting, etc.

I have already seen a girl in my dd's Kgarten class manipulate her and say mean things to her to get what she wants. I discussed it with the teacher who was complicit in helping and talked to the other parent about it. She did express to me that she was shocked at the level of manipulation coming from a 5 year old! She's been teaching a long time too....

I will be watching and learning from this thread - thanks for starting it.
post #4 of 43
ooo! Very important topic. Golad you started this.

My experience comes from being a elementary school Values teacher, mental health worker and daughter of a mental health therapist. In addition to this, I think I was probably a child who easily could have been an easy target as I was very shy.

I can tell you that prevention lies in vigilant adults and pro-active efforts. Pro-active efforts that are...bold...but not mean. As in, the school SHOULD have contacted your mom and let her know what had been said. Let her know that this was a source of bullying for their daughter. It likely wouldn't have cured alcoholism. But often, a kid is picked on for some random reason, like say, he wears glasses, pulls his pants up too high and has a grating intonation in his voice. Teachers are afraid to openly say, this is what the kids are making fun of. Not that this kid needs to go and change his appearance to fit in, but he should be aware. Then you openly have a values lesson with the kid about what he thinks. Sometimes kids do need a reality check if they are doing something annoying (whining, staring, tattling, getting in someone's space, etc.) Many of the bullying problems lie within that realm.

But then there are the kids who are just mean. (Public humiliation, like the girl in the story). Any teacher who does not hear these conversations is negligent. And trust me, as a teacher, I KNOW IT IS REALLY HARD! But it is more important than academics. When children are overly competitive, anxious, or feel superior it highly interferes with their self esteem and school work. These kinds of bullying behaviors simply cannot be allowed! Every school should have a period set aside for values lessons where the kids openly communicate about these kinds of things and learn together how to handle them. I can say enough about how helpful it's been in our school.

Now, in real life, there aren't going to be daily values lessons all the time and so there is also a part of the bullied, learning to handle it with humor, wit, being tough, letting some things roll off their back and discerning between a dumb bully and actual abuse. This is hard for kids...and again, a daily valules lesson for guidance is so, so, so helpful.

There are two really great books that have helped me and the children I work with.
Dr. Howard Gardner's Stories of the Real World and another one called What Would You Do? I plan to read these books with my own kids to help arm them with some quick thinking that won't compromise their values when caught in a sticky and intimidating situation.
post #5 of 43
Oh and ROLE PLAYING! If you can pretend to be the bully, kids think it is so silly, but try to get them to practice lots of responses. You can go up to them and pretend to make fun of their stupid shoes and weird hair. Help your child practice retorting with a funny comment or practice confidently blowing it off.

One thing my kids struggled with was not the tough/funny retort, but they struggled with walking away afterwards but then staring at the bully. They didn't even realize they were doing it. It doesn't look confident and they remain a "piece of bully meat" when they do that. I often had to remind them to confidently respond, confidently walk away and get busy doing something acting as if you never skipped a beat. Don't stare! Because they'll know how it affected it you emotionally and that you are still bothered!
post #6 of 43
Okay Kerc...here's what I wrote...beware this is really long!

The issue of girls and bullying is a complicated problem involving so many different issues, including but not limited to: age of onset, feelings of self worth, emotional intelligence, coping skills, verbal skills, insight, family dynamics, family/individual stress, impact of media/mainstream society, the atmosphere of the school, etc.

I believe teasing/bullying starts much younger than most parents realize. In fact as a larger problem I believe it starts easily in the fourth grade, but there’s evidence of problems much earlier. I do think different regions may impact the time of onset.

We are socializing our girls to behave in this “pecking order” manner. I say pecking order because I think this is a big crux of this issue. There are several reasons, but to start, because we (society, media, some families) place such an emphasis on looks and popularity as attributes of worthiness for our girls, they then may resort to harsh means to obtain this power. Not only do they go to lengths to make themselves fit this mold, but also then to try and undermine others in an attempt to elevate oneself further is the easiest strategy to make you top chicken (so to speak). This undermining may be picking on the girls that do not adhere to mainstream mores or just your average Jane who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The average Jane’s reaction though is paramount, which I talk about later. Media supports this stratified value system, and frankly benefits greatly from it. Think about it, if they can sell an image they will use whatever means necessary to do so…even if that means making your little girl feel a little less without her Susy Q lunchbox, so be it, the mighty dollar rules. Supply and Demand. If they can create this by making Janey seem lame without it, well there it is again. Then there’s the cover of magazines. These are not even real people! They are so modified using airbrush and Photoshop techniques that increasingly these images look more like mannequins than people. Check out this link: http://homepage.mac.com/gapodaca/dig...e/blonde1.html, and this one: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/20...540121180.html. So now we have this unrealistic image that we are trying to live up to, to attain, this image that further erodes our feelings of worthiness due to its’ focus on our “lacks” and the diminishing belief in our own beauty (inside and out). Finally, add the easy means of comparing ourselves to our peers to see how we stack up, with the negative side effect of always finding ourselves lacking, throw in “Alpha Bitch” who makes certain of it. Finally, look at what sells entertainment-wise, Drama. Females being catty, fighting over men, fighting for status…The more drama a show can deliver the better the ratings. And our girls are eating this up, using it as a primer on how to be cool.

So, now that we’ve created a fertile ground of insecurity, let’s add reality to the mixture. A child whose needs may not be fully met. Parents in the midst of a contentious divorce, death in the family, etc., both normal and beyond normal stressors. This child then has feelings that perhaps she struggles with communicating and coping. Instead she may choose one of two routes, one to be the bully, to maintain her sense of power and control by influencing others, or alternatively when targeted unable to respond in a manner that eliminates or at least decreases the bullying. There are things that we do that make us more “target-able.” Not that I’m saying blame the victim, absolutely not. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and shouldn’t. But if I give a big reaction to some girl who called me “wide-load,” well I’ve given her exactly what she’s wanting, power over my emotions and behavior. Now knowing she has this power, she will come to me again and again when she needs a boost, wants to make her friends laugh, or is simply bored. And of course there’s that girl, the one who bullies because she learned at a young age that it works. It kept people around her either through amusement, fear, or personal insecurities preventing their going it alone. This is not the girl that is having self worth issues, or family problems per se. That is not to say they are mutually exclusive. It is more though that there are those girls out there for which this is a system that works and it is not a reaction to something within them or their families.

To speak about the other side of the coin, the target is essential. I do not believe we can change the mean girls without changing how as targets we react. I think our girls are more target-able when their self-worth isn’t optimal, or when they feel disconnected or isolated. When they have such a huge need for belonging that it alters their choices and behaviors. That they alter themselves trying to fit in. Other factors include their ability to have insight both into their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions, as well as others including their tormentors. If I know that someone is trying to upset me to make others laugh to elevate themselves, then I also know it has nothing to do with me and I can ignore what they are saying about me. It is a rare child that can do this. Typically the reaction is one of hurt, surprise, and dismay. But this is an opportunity for us as parents to help them see more clearly what is going on in the situation, an opportunity to work on critical thinking skills. To help them evaluation the situation more objectively and determine what exactly are this girls goals. It is important to help our girls realize that often times teasers/bullies just keep trying random things until they hit something that is hurtful and garners a reaction. So, how comfortable we are with ourselves has a huge impact on how likely we are to react. If you were to tease me about being short you would get no reaction, but had you teased me about weight while growing up, well you would’ve scored. That is then where all future teasing would be directed. What makes this so easy to see for me as an adult is that being called “wide load” as a teenager and now looking back at my ridiculously skinny teenage self really highlight the randomness of the teasing and the fact it was more about the teaser than me. So, the more comfortable we are, the less we feel the need to fit in (a huge drive for many women, fueled by insecurities, society, and media) and the less likely we are to be concerned with what others have to say, especially if they are not someone close to us. But, we all have insecurities and sometimes it really is just a matter of putting on a poker face to prevent others from recognizing they’ve hit home.

So to try and summarize my soapbox diatribe… I think as a society we are creating this problem. I truly believe that if we could teach our girls to abandon this idea of a hierarchy we would empower women to a level unimaginable. To be able to work in community would be astounding. I think that a lot of girls when they engage in this behavior they are experimenting with how to elevate themselves. I think others are genuinely hurting and are lashing out in an attempt to diffuse their own anger/uncomfortable feelings. And I think there are others though that this is a system that works and they lack the empathy to see what they are doing. We make ourselves more target-able by our reactions. The better we feel about ourselves and the better we can refrain from reaction, the less likely we are to be targeted. However, sometimes though just because you are so amazing is exactly why you are targeted. Remember it’s not really about you though, it’s about this persons feeling of lack, whether it be power, or self worth. How many times has an attractive woman walked by and under your breath either in seriousness or jest have you muttered, “skinny bitch”? I guess the bottom line is, we take a fragile human being and attack them on multiple levels, set up a system of hierarchy that ensures heartache, and fail to teach them the skills they need to combat others deficits and resultant actions.

So what are my thoughts on how to address this issue? Eliminate as much media impact as possible, TV, glam magazines, etc. Talk about beauty coming in all shapes and sizes and without parameters. Working to understand others perspectives. When someone does something hurtful talk about her thoughts and reactions, process those and figure out what she would like to do about her feelings. But then talks about what we thought the other person’s goals were. Depending on their age, help her see that sometimes we change our reactions based on what we perceive the others goals. For example if I think Susy wants to hurt my feelings, I may not say to her, “Susy it hurts my feelings when…” and instead may say, “not cool Susy,” or say nothing at all. I hope to help her recognize true friends and how to be a true friend. And mostly that she lives in such a way that she can feel good about herself. And of course to role-play what to do when kids are mean and when to involve adults.

Good books:

Reviving Ophelia – Mary Pipher
Queen Bees and Wannabees – Wiseman (I couldn’t actually get through this one, and really what I did get was just the idea of a pecking order, which I already knew).
Ophelia Speaks: adolescent girls write about their search for self – Sara Shandler – I haven’t read this but it’s a response to Pipher’s book and looks really interesting.
One Hundred Dresses – per Bec’s recommendation
post #7 of 43
Phew! That was long! But, so well written and worth reading. You are DEAD ON.
post #8 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by poppywise View Post
I wonder sometimes why I don't have more self esteem. I think that would have gone a long way for me standing up for myself. I come from a loving home but I think my parents may have erred on the side of trying to root good behavior and manners than standing up for myself and being strong. I'm sure there can be both but I grew up fearing punishment for wrong doing, even though there was never any hitting, etc.

I will be watching and learning from this thread - thanks for starting it.
That is a very valid point. I was always so afraid of disappointing my mom, doing something wrong, being mean, or not using proper manners. This was most important in our house. I never had my emotions validated. It just wasn't something my mom ever thought you needed to do for a child. She also over protected me so I never was given opportunity for growth and self confidence. I was raised to just obey authority.
post #9 of 43
Wow! Great replies, and good subject to discuss.

I have been talking to my Kindergarten age DD this past week to try to discern where some of her recently acquired behavior changes came from.

Anyway, while my mind was on the subject I heard her tell her younger sister "if you do that everyone's going to laugh at you". After I asked her a few questions, I got that kids in her class say that as a threat to each other. I asked if everyone actually does point and laugh at another kid, and she said no, so it seems like just threat, but not one that any kid wants to test. Looking back, I remember her saying months ago "I don't want to jump in the pool in front of people because they're all going to point and laugh at me". I told her they wouldn't but spent no more time on it. So that was the beginning of a self esteem downward spiral. In the very beginning of Kindergarten.

I went to a birthday party with DD over the weekend and watched how the girls in her class related to each other. Some of them seemed to be sort of nice to each other and some of them seemed very very competitive. One would tell the other about a toy she just got and the other would shoot back with something they own, and on and on. If one showed another new shoes she was wearing, another girl would say that she didn't like them. It just seemed like none of the kids really supported each other. It can be subtle, it may not be out and out bullying, but it seems like the roots are there for the behavior to grow.

It's hard to watch all of these kids constantly acting out of fear of humiliation and the need to conform at such a young age. I just feel like I haven't had enough time to really work on building the healthy sense of self before there were already external forces tearing it down.
post #10 of 43
I don't have time to read everything right now, but I wanted to make a plug for "The Bully, The Bullied and the Bystander" by Barbara Colorosso. I'm pretty sure they talk about "girl" bullying in that book too, and how it's different from boy bullying.
post #11 of 43
I am so interested in this topic. I was a preschool teacher for 6 years, and now I do home childcare for 3 three year old girls. I can tell you that I see bullying behaviour among girls starting at three, year after year! It is a very complex problem and I am looking forward to discussing this when I have more time.
post #12 of 43
I'm scared and subbing in.

I suffered my fairshare of bullying and was not always smart about it. I hope for better for my girls and do not know how to go about it. I'll start with the suggested reading.

I want so much for me and my daughters, it is all easier to achieve when we are at peace with ourselves and those around us.
post #13 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by sweetlovinmama View Post
I went to a birthday party with DD over the weekend and watched how the girls in her class related to each other. Some of them seemed to be sort of nice to each other and some of them seemed very very competitive. One would tell the other about a toy she just got and the other would shoot back with something they own, and on and on. If one showed another new shoes she was wearing, another girl would say that she didn't like them. It just seemed like none of the kids really supported each other. It can be subtle, it may not be out and out bullying, but it seems like the roots are there for the behavior to grow.

It's hard to watch all of these kids constantly acting out of fear of humiliation and the need to conform at such a young age. I just feel like I haven't had enough time to really work on building the healthy sense of self before there were already external forces tearing it down.
This is so true! And exactly what I am seeing/have seen as well. With little girls it seems to start over toys/clothing. Also, trying to "posess" another child as a friend. One child, for whatever reason becomes the child two or more girls want as a friend. This child may not exhibit any bullying behaviour, but will bask in the attention he/she recieves from the other two girls fighting for their friendship. The stronger willed of the two girls will bully the other girl out of the friendship by being mean to and excluding the third girl. One very sad example I remember: Girl A, who was tall for her age, from a visible minority befriended girl B who was tiny, blond and very verbal. They had a wonderful friendship based on mutal interests. Girl C decides she wants girl B all to herself, so whispers things like "We don;t want you to play with us." And "Girls with Brown skin can't play" to girl A, who is too shy to say anything to her teachers, let alone physically and verbally aggressive C. As preschool teachers, we were unaware until the parents approached us and told us what their daughter was telling them at home. Long story short, we were able to protect A and B's friendship, but were unable to reform C before she went on to elementary school.

What I have found that helps in some cases is to nurture the friendship of the two girls who are in conflict with one another for the friendship of the third girl. In some cases the two fighting girls had more compatible interests and personalities than the girl they were fighting over! When the object of their desire wasn't available they would play together wonderfully. Which makes me wonder if the girl they were fighting over wasn't subtley contributing to the problem somehow???

Physical aggression is so much easier to deal with than manipulative behaviour in my opinion.
post #14 of 43
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by babybugmama View Post
So, now that we’ve created a fertile ground of insecurity, let’s add reality to the mixture. A child whose needs may not be fully met. Parents in the midst of a contentious divorce, death in the family, etc., both normal and beyond normal stressors.
BBM you are so right on!

Quote:
Originally Posted by babybugmama View Post
This child then has feelings that perhaps she struggles with communicating and coping. Instead she may choose one of two routes, one to be the bully, to maintain her sense of power and control by influencing others, or alternatively when targeted unable to respond in a manner that eliminates or at least decreases the bullying.
I wish you had been my friend in grade school! That was me ... err, I was the target not the bully-er.

Quote:
Originally Posted by babybugmama View Post
The better we feel about ourselves and the better we can refrain from reaction, the less likely we are to be targeted.
nod.
Quote:
Originally Posted by babybugmama View Post
However, sometimes though just because you are so amazing is exactly why you are targeted. Remember it’s not really about you though, it’s about this persons feeling of lack, whether it be power, or self worth.
That is so true! So what do we tell our kids ... on the one hand in my situation, my mom saying that this girl is picking on me is just about this girl doesn't help me feel better, on the other that is so true -- it is all about the bullier.
post #15 of 43
I think at age three I would question that it was "bullying" per se. I think at that age you are learning parameters of self and other. Empathy is a far away concept for a three year old. They are also learning the impact of their choices, gaining power so to speak. However, this is a ripe opportunity to work on perspective taking and empathy, as well as a gentle way to achieve your goal (if that's appropriate). At this age (actually really even at 2, or as soon as they notice others emotions) I will reinforce their observations. For example, today when picking dd up from school, ds (age 2) heard a little girl crying (another sibling there for pickup) and commented "girl crying." I responded, "yes, I hear her crying too." Sometimes I might add, "is she sad?" or "is she upset?" Once when dd was three she saw a girl (about 8) have a fight with her mom and go outside to sit on the porch and cry. She told me she wanted to go over and give her a hug. I just told her to ask first. This little girl seemed so touched. I talked with dd about how sweet that was to care about her feelings and want to try and help. Another story (I use stories to try and explain what I mean) was when I observed dd teasing a boy in her class last year. We talked about it and she explained she was doing it because the other kids were. You can imagine my internal reaction! But I used an incident that had actually occurred just a week earlier when some older boys called her dumb. We talked about how she felt, and then explored how this little boy felt (he was a year younger and had speech difficulties). She actually then became a leader in treating him better and calling other kids on their behavior when they did not treat him well. Now before it sounds like I think my little girl is so perfect and beyond that...please let me state for the record, she is a typical kid. She teases at times when she doesn't know what else to do...she, like all of us, is a work in progress.

Kerc that's what I mean about working with our girls on perspective taking and looking at what the other girls goals may be. You would be surprised at how right on they are...they can usually tell when it's jealousy at your awesomeness versus random target. That then can guide behavior. Always work towards teaching and reinforcing critical thinking skills. Questions like, what do you think Janey hoped would happen when she ...., what do you think is the best thing you could do? What do you think would happen if you did x. That kind of thing.



btw I would have loved being friends. I moved a lot too...and let's just say a lot of my understanding of this process is having gone through it...

must go, babes needing nummies...
post #16 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by babybugmama View Post
Good books:

Reviving Ophelia – Mary Pipher
Queen Bees and Wannabees – Wiseman (I couldn’t actually get through this one, and really what I did get was just the idea of a pecking order, which I already knew).
Ophelia Speaks: adolescent girls write about their search for self – Sara Shandler – I haven’t read this but it’s a response to Pipher’s book and looks really interesting.
One Hundred Dresses – per Bec’s recommendation

This is a very interesting thread. I have read all of the above books and I just wanted to add another book that I just finished reading this week.
I know this isn't the Learning at Home board, but I thought someone on here might be interested in this book, too. If not, please just ignore.
I found the following book to be very insightful:

A Sense of Self: Listening to Homeschooled Adolescent Girls by Susannah Sheffer
I ordered it from amazon a couple of weeks ago.
post #17 of 43
Thread Starter 
momtokea tell us about that book. I'm not sure homeschooling is the right choice for one of my children (who also happens to be the oldest), but I'm interested in what the book contains (interested enough that I just ordered it )
post #18 of 43
Oh and always ask, "well what do you think, do you think you are x, y, or z?" So for example when someone may tease me about being short, I laugh and say, "yeah, I'm vertically challenged." Alternatively, if someone called me stupid, and I know I'm not stupid and they're just trying to be hurtful, it's a little easier to blow off.

Oh and momtokea I actually am going to homeschool dd next year! I would love to hear more!
post #19 of 43
I have watched bullying go unaddressed in my dd's former school and have seen how incredibly destuctive, on so many levels the behavior can be. The bullying I saw started in 1st grade. It wasn't hidden at all. It was out there, not interms of any physical aggression, but rather explicit exclusion, snide comments, etc. It was unreal how much power so few possessed! There were girls who were made miserable. My dd was pretty young for her age, so she wasn't quite as caught up, or a target, per se. But she was confused and truly grieved for her friends who were so unhappy.

Hereare some of the issues that I saw. Parents who refused to really look at the social dynamic. Parents who enjoyed the "special" relationships their children were having and had secondary gain for themselves via these relationships. teachers who refused to believe that bullying would be happening in their classroom, and thus were quite inneffective in protecting students. A wider school community with an on-paper commitment to an anti-bullying stance, but a pedagogy that made it difficult to really "get" bullying, and no real expert on staff to help people understand what girl bullying (relational aggression) looks like.

Bullying has to be gotten after from the moment you see it, IMO.
post #20 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by kerc View Post
momtokea tell us about that book. I'm not sure homeschooling is the right choice for one of my children (who also happens to be the oldest), but I'm interested in what the book contains (interested enough that I just ordered it )
I hesitated to post because I didn't want to make it look like I thought homeschooling was the answer to this problem, because homeschooling certainly doesn't fix the issues schools are dealing with. I just finished the book and thought someone else might find it interesting.

I'm not as articulate as Babybugmama (wonderful post and so right on) but I'll try to give you an idea of what this book is about. Susannah Sheffer interviewed 55 girls between the ages of 11 and 16 who had been out of school for at least two full years. Some had always been homeschooled and some had gone to school for a few years before beginning homeschooling. Basically, most of the girls have a strong sense of self, individuality, high self-esteem, self-confident, do not feel the need to conform, have strong and definite interests and beliefs. Girls who had gone to school and now homeschooled expressed how much better they felt about themselves and how they were free to be themselves and not try to be something they weren't. The author discusses how schools often try to send one message (ie. make your own decisions, stand up for yourself), but in reality practice an opposing message (ie. you must do things our way, or everyone must do the same thing).

I found it to be a very interesting read, but mindboggling to sit and think about changes schools should make so that girls (and boys) could have a more positive self-image.

As far as little girl bullying, I don't have any answers, but I know it's happening, I see it everywhere, even though we homeschool
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