Outgoing, assertive, active girls turn self-conscious, uncertain and introverted in middle-school. Why? A large part of it is gender. As girls enter the "gender intensification years," they're expected to master femininity and the cool pose of older girls. At the same time, they have to deal with the social expectations and attention paid to bodies which are starting to become more womanly. it's a double-whammy. The girls who were carefree and athletic suddenly begin keeping to themselves, worrying about their looks and weight, and uncertain of themselves socially. It doesn't help that bullies tend to target girls who are less "with it," who aren't as quick to measure up to and internalize feminine ideals -- the "dweebs" and "dorks" who get the worst of it. The NY Times has a great piece here http://tinyurl.com/2eqgrzj about a program from Rachel Simmons author of "Odd Girl Out" about restoring some of the self-confidence and play to girls who've been harshed and hurt by the social aggression that too often comes with middle-school girlhood. As wonderful as these programs are, we won't change the culture of bullying until we change the culture of femininity and what it demands of these young, sensitive and still-vulnerable minds.