By: Vicki BohlingIn this blog –part two of a two-part series– we examine why and how girls might bully other girls, and present some action steps for adults to take against bullying behavior. These action steps will work with both boys and girls. Click here to read part one in this series, Brutal Boys:Why (and How) Do Boys Bully, and What Can Parents Do about It?
When our daughter started high school a couple of years ago, she was pretty nervous about the unknowns of the first day. She wondered whether she would like her teachers, and she hoped she wouldn’t get lost on her way to class in a big new building. But she would tell you that her greatest worry, by far, was who will eat lunch with me?
The need to belong in adolescence is powerful. We know from studies of gender development that girls, especially, have a fierce desire to be connected, included and liked. Belonging to groups can be a very positive thing, but when girls feel insecure about their social status, the quest for belonging can lead to some very ugly behavior.
It’s important to know that what we define as bullying behavior in girls can vary from what we define as bullying behavior in boys. Boys tend to be more involved in physical and verbal bullying, while girl bullying is more relationally aggressive. Relational aggression is often harder for adults to recognize. Girls bully through gossip, spreading rumors, deliberate exclusion, and sharing secrets. Because these types of bullying may seem more subtle, adults too often pass off girl bullying as a cruel but normal phase and are slower to react than they would to other forms.
Girls rarely bully as individuals. Instead, they exert social control in groups and try to get others to join in. Only 15% of girls ever speak up when they experience or witness this type of bullying behavior. It's a tricky position to be in because girls who do not push back are more likely to be bullied. Girl bullies are also more likely to pick on:
- Girls they are jealous of
- People who seem “different”
- Teens who may be “richer” or “poorer”
- Girls who hit puberty earlier or later than other girls
Girls also differ in the ways they cyberbully. Adolescent girls are more likely to have experienced cyberbullying than boys and are more likely to report having cyberbullied others. Girls are more likely to spread rumors using technology while boys are more likely to post hurtful pictures or videos.
As parents of girls, it makes our hearts heavy to imagine that our daughters could be involved in bullying or victims of bullying, but there are some specific steps we can take to help our daughters use their girl-power for good and not evil:
- If your daughter is being bullied, acknowledge her pain, but try not to take a “those horrible girls/my poor baby” approach. Instead, talk with her about other hard things she’s worked through in her life and focus on the skills she used to meet and overcome those challenges. What the research says: Why it's important to teach kids to be resilient >
- Remember that belonging is key, so help your daughter find at least one activity or outlet that will provide her with a social niche that isn’t based on where she buys her clothes or what kind of cell phone she has. Learn more about helping kids find their spark >
- Address bullying when you come across it. If you hear your daughter and her friends gossiping, counter it with something like, “Ouch, that sounded mean. I know you guys can do better.”
- LOL – but not at someone else’s expense. A healthy sense of humor can give kids some Teflon coating against bullying, but we want to help our girls learn how to laugh with people, not at people. Use examples you see in the media to demonstrate the difference between the two.
- And if you feel that bullying in any form has moved beyond what you and your daughter can handle, don’t hesitate to contact school or law enforcement authorities for support. No one should ever have to battle the big stuff alone.
4. Teen Advice