There has never been a more important time to teach young people to suspend judgment, weigh evidence, consider multiple perspectives, and speak up with wisdom and grace on behalf of themselves and others,” Mary Ehrenworth, Deputy Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

The National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, held on the third Friday of March each year, is an opportunity for Australian schools to highlight their everyday work to counter bullying and violence.

From time to time, in my role as Principal, I have observed people treating other people poorly and unkindly. Unfortunately, these instances are true of both adults and children. Gossip and untruth is often at the heart of this mean behaviour. Respect can, unfortunately, be an uncommon commodity.

I also observe that students and parents can often be confused between the definitions of rude and mean or if it is bullying behaviour. Signe Whitson, the national educator on bullying and author of three books including Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying helps discern the difference between what is rude behaviour, what is mean behaviour and what is bullying behaviour.

The main distinction between ‘rude’ and ‘mean’ behaviour has to do with intention; while rudeness is often unintentional, mean behaviour very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone. Children are mean to each other when they criticise clothing, appearance, intelligence, coolness or just about anything else they can find to denigrate. Meanness also sounds like words spoken in anger — impulsive cruelty that is often regretted in short order. Very often, mean behaviour in children is motivated by angry feelings and/or the misguided goal of propping themselves up in comparison to the person they are putting down.

Make no mistake; mean behaviours can wound deeply and adults can make a significant difference in the lives of young people when they hold children accountable for being mean. Yet, meanness is different from bullying in important ways that should be understood and differentiated when it comes to intervention.

Bullying is defined by intentionally aggressive behaviour, repeated over time, and involves an imbalance of power. Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: an intent to harm, a power imbalance and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behaviour. Kids who bully say or do something intentionally hurtful to others and they keep doing it, with no sense of regret or remorse — even when targets of bullying show or express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop.”

Keeping up with girls’ friendships can also be confusing at times. Dr Lisa Damour, author of Untangled: Guiding Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood describes the process by which girls must separate from the cocoon of their families and “join a new tribe.” This tribe will be everything to them but it can be filled with girls whose brain development is re-modelling from back to front, “creating mayhem because it means starting with emotional changes to the brain and ending with better control.”

Relational aggression, commonly exhibited in the dynamics of teenage girls, describes behaviours such as gossip, the silent treatment, belittling and conditionally based friendships. All of these are incredibly challenging to navigate for children and adults alike (with workplace bullying not dissimilar to what can be observed in younger generations). Relational aggression is distinguished from just being mean as it focuses on damaging a person’s sense of social place. Sadly, this behaviour has been somewhat normalised by the onset of reality TV, with producers enticing cast members to lift television ratings by exhibiting such bullying behaviours.

The popularity of such programs and the glorifying of bullying-type behaviour concerns me greatly. If TV shows influence what teenagers wear, the gadgets they buy, how they dance and where they socialise or shop, is it logical that they also influence how they act and behave? Science has proven the human brain does not develop its full reason and logic functions until the age of 21 to 24. As such, young brains are very susceptible to suggestion because they lack the full ability of reason and logic. Like a sponge, young people soak up cues from their outside world and incorporate them into the belief system.

Our weThrive: Wellbeing@St Catherine’s program is designed to develop our students’ awareness of their own behaviours. In partnership with Swinburne University, the School has developed and implemented the Aristotle Emotional Intelligence program that extends from the ELC to Year 12 and is focused on building capacity in our students’ awareness of control and ability to express  emotions and handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Our School Counsellor, Heads of Year and Director of Student Wellbeing, Ms Merran O’Connor also regularly attend Professional Development Seminars and provide great assistance to parents navigating the world of tween and teen dynamics.

Head of the Schoolgirls – Rowing Regatta

With months of early morning training sessions complete the St Catherine’s School Rowing team will travel to the Barwon River, Geelong for the annual Head of the Schoolgirls Regatta, the pinnacle event on the Schoolgirls Rowing calendar.

The girls will be racing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the heats and repêchages taking place on the Saturday and the semi-finals and finals on the Sunday. With over 1,800 competitors entered in the events this weekend the Victorian HOSG remains one of the largest Schoolgirl Regattas in Australia.

The St Catherine’s rowers have enjoyed a very successful season to date under the guidance of Director of Rowing, Mr Dave Fraumano and we are greatly anticipating this weekend. The Senior VIIIs have been quietly building momentum across the season and we look forward to this Blue Ribbon event on Sunday.

School community members are encouraged to support our crews on the banks of the Barwon River over the weekend – just look for the St Catherine’s marquee and a sea of light blue ribbons. Our crews will be well-supported by the parent support group, The Heyington Club, with ample support from parents, grandparents and family friends, all wearing the St Catherine’s colours. Despite the difficulty of the early morning wake up and the daily drive to the Mercantile Rowing Boatshed, many parents have expressed a tinge of sadness that yet another Rowing season is complete.

Congratulations must go to our Rowing Captains, Eleanor Millear and Julie Grant and all of the Senior rowers whose leadership, commitment and role modelling to our younger students has been outstanding all season. The exceptional teamwork, unity and spirit visibly present at the Mercantile Shed this year is a credit to our Seniors and on behalf of St Catherine’s School, I wish all the girls an enjoyable and successful Regatta.

Mrs Michelle Carroll, Principal