Three teenage girls sat in a Charlotte Starbucks on Sunday doing what some teenage girls do sometimes - complaining and making fun of their peers.
It might have continued, unnoticed. But, little did they know that the woman sitting right near them had heard all of this before. She understood what was driving the behavior. And, worse, she knows how those words can affect their targets. It was Michelle Icard, a mom with two teenagers of her own, creator of popular programs for middle school students and the author of "Middle School Makeover," a fantastic guide for parents who are in the middle of those tween and early teen years.
I've written about Icard, who visited Raleigh earlier this year and will return later this year, several times. On Sunday, I followed the story as it unfolded on her Facebook page.
"I'm crawling out of my skin sitting next to three very pretty, very boisterous, horribly behaved young teenage girls," she wrote.
She could take it only so long before she got up and went to do her grocery shopping. But, she couldn't get them out of her mind. So, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She ordered three mini frappuccinos from her mobile app and headed back to the coffee shop with a note, framed as a good luck missive as they studied for exams.
You can read the full story and note on Icard's blog. It was short and to the point.
As I relayed the story to my own tween (always looking for those teachable moments!), I'll admit to getting slightly teary eyed as I read the ending. Because this, right here, is what I want both my girls to remember as they enter these tricky years. I'm bolding it to add emphasis.
"You are smart and you are pretty," Icard wrote. "It would take nothing from you to also be kind."
I've written a lot about bullying in this space. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. students in grades six to twelve experience some form of bullying. About 30 percent of young people admit to bullying others.
And, bullying isn't only scuffles on the playground. As Thomas Ray, senior director of educational programming at the Poe Center for Health Education, told me, bullying includes working among peers to exclude a child, gossiping and cyberbullying. And, while we've all heard about "mean girls," boys can be just as tough on their classmates as girls.
Why should we care about this? Why have experts called bullying "pervasive" and an "epidemic?" Because the effects can be debilitating for the victims - depression and anxiety that can continue into adulthood; health complaints; even suicide. WRAL.com just recently had a story that noted that the suicide rate of girls between ages 10 and 14 had tripled in 2014.
What did those girls do with the note after Icard delivered it? My husband guessed that they probably just made fun of her. I'm holding on for a more hopeful response. So is Icard. (And, you can better believe it, I hope that if my daughters ever act this way, there's an Icard watching over them and responding).
"Perhaps it’s true that I overstepped my bounds, but I have to believe that there is still room in our village for lessons from strangers with good intentions in their heart," Icard wrote in her blog post about the experience. "I didn’t want to shame them out loud or put them on the spot. But my hope is that maybe, just one of them was only going along with the others, and tonight she will think about that in a meaningful way as she’s falling asleep."
Go Ask Mom editor Sarah Lindenfeld Hall is the mom of two.