VIDEO: Dr. James Garbarino Talks About the Impact of the Secrecy that is Common Among Adolescent Girls in our Society

Watch an exerpt from PsychAlive’s exclusive interview with Dr. James Garbarino.

Dr. James Garbarino talks about a common communication gap between adolescent girls and their parents.

Dr. James Garbarino: I think one of the common themes in the lives of girls who get hurt by peers is this code of silence.  You know, there’s a book called Saving Beauty from the Beast.  It was written by two women, two mothers, both of whose daughters were murdered by their boyfriends, the daughter’s boyfriends.  And in both cases, the girls knew that their boyfriends were aggressive, but thought that they, their love for them, would allow them to tame these boys.  And they both died for it.

And so these women wrote this book about the fact that girls are particularly prone to have this idea that they have the capacity to heal and help and protect others and that they’re embarrassed to admit that they’re being hurt.  And I think that generalizes to a lot of the cyber bullying, that girls are embarrassed to let it be known that they’re being treated this way.  They worry that it will hurt their parents’ feeling, their parents will be sad, their parents will think less of them, their parents will be afraid.

And so this secret life is probably the connector between these experiences and these terrible outcomes.  We did do a study a number of years ago called The Secret Life of Teenagers.  We were asking college students at an Ivy League university about things that happened to them, things they did, things they felt, when they were in high school and did their parents know.  And it was really striking, for example, that about 30% of the girls said that when they were in high school, they were troubled and sad enough to seriously contemplate suicide and 80% said their parents never knew.  And again, these were girls who had done well enough externally that they got into an Ivy League university and so on.  They felt that way.  A large, a significant percentage said they were afraid to go to school– they were afraid of people at school, they were tormented and by and large didn’t tell their parents.  Again, 10% said they realized they were lesbians and 90% said their parents didn’t know.

So I think that is the place, because it’s very hard to prevent your child from using the internet.  It’s very hard to prevent other girls from ganging up on them.  So the one area that we really do have access to is disclosure and this ability to tell what’s happening without the fear that you will lose your parents’ love and you will be rejected.  That, I think, is the central dynamic that could be preventive and in many cases, obviously, isn’t.  It’s going to be very hard to get around that to the other girls because there’s this big elephant, the gorilla in the middle of the room, that, if you’re not dealing with that, it’s very inefficient to do other things.

About the Author

James Garbarino, Ph.D. James Garbarino is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Cornell University and at Loyola University Chicago. From 2006-2020, he held the Maude C. Clarke Chair in Humanistic Psychology and was founding Director of the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago. From 1995-2006, he was Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Development and Co-Director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell University. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Garbarino has served as consultant or advisor to a wide range of organizations, including the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, the National Institute for Mental Health, the American Medical Association, the National Black Child Development Institute, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the FBI. Among the books he has authored or edited are: Listening to Killers: Lessons Learned from My 20 Years as a Psychological Expert Witness in Murder Cases (2015), Miller’s Children: Why Giving Teenage Killers a Second Chance Matters for All of Us (2018), Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience (2008), See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It (2006). And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (2002); Parents Under Siege: Why You Are the Solution, Not the Problem, in Your Child’s Life (2001); Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them (1999. Dr. Garbarino has won many awards from his work in the fields of trauma and abuse. He serves as a consultant for media reports on children and families. Since 1994, he has served as a scientific expert witness in criminal cases involving issues of violence and children.

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