I have two new stories in this week’s Sunday Styles section of The New York Times, both of them on our darker moments: The first, The Playground Gets Even Tougher, looks at the trickling down of mean-girl behavior from fifth grade into kindergarten and even preschool. As the mother of a young girl, I found the stories people relayed to be upsetting — but believable. And from the comments on the NYT website, it seems that while many people aren’t sure this is something exactly new, most agree that relational bullying is getting younger and more intense. Two points touched on in the story seemed to resonate in particular with readers: One, that parents, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes deliberately, can encourage mean-girl behavior. That is, in our highly competitive world, having a daughter be on top means helping her put other girls down. And the second point, that the media often abets mean-girl behavior through sassy, talk-back and back-biting female characters on programs watched by girls as young as four years old. (And good luck to those girls with older female siblings!)
The second story, a bit more lighthearted, explores whether there’s any upside to gossip. The story, for my Studied column, asks Can Gossip Be Good for You? According to two new British studies, it may not be exactly beneficial but talking about other people in a positive way certainly doesn’t have the negative impact that badmouthing others does. At the same time, research indicates that one’s sense of social support is bolstered by gossiping, whether it’s mean-spirited or harmless. Though perhaps people just think others like them more when they’re catty.
I have a story that ran in the New York Times Sunday Style section yesterday about how the widespread practice of redshirting is affecting parents, children, and kindergarten classes nationwide. While I was not surprised, as a parent, but the amount of angst this causes parents (whether to redshirt, what happens if you don’t, what’s more important — academic or social/emotional readiness, etc.), many aspects of the story were news to me. For one thing, the economic gap between those who can afford to redshirt and those who can’t — and the long-term consequences is concerning. I was also intrigued by a political angle: That the earlier a state sets its cutoff date, the better its students do on standardized testing and the more likely the state is to win federal funds. Also, the more likely the students are to get into competitive colleges. Or so the theory goes. The story has generated 201 comments on The New York Times website, and counting. I’d love to hear from more parents and educators about what they think of redshirting and their own personal experiences.
These are all valid questions, but the limitation of any story or book is that you can only write so much — that as journalists and authors, we have to draw the line somewhere, or we’d end up with 10,000 word articles all the time (which we, as writers, would love but readers probably wouldn’t) and with 500-page books (which we, as writers, would hate and readers would too — not that there’s anything wrong with 500 page books, but I’ll leave that to Robert Caro and Robert K. Massie).
In this case, I wrote about Ms. Dolgoff’s interest in the implications of aging (but not aging that much) on what you wear and how you look. It’s an interesting issue, and one I think Ms. Dolgoff addresses interestingly — and hilariously — in her book.
I have a new story in yesterday’s Styles section of The New York Times about couples who separate and stay separated indefinitely, rather than proceeding directly to divorce. Call them the Undivorced. (I did.) The comments section is really fascinating. While it would be impossible to quantify whether the number of these undivorced couples is growing, it is clearly not uncommon. Many people wrote about various iterations in their own families.