Playground politics have been around for ages, but the trend of girls becoming bullies is on the rise. Brenda Entwisle offers some information regarding bullying and how to protect your child from school bullies
Playground politics have been around for ages, but the trend of girls becoming bullies is on the rise, with consequences that can haunt both victims and aggressors well into adulthood.
Mean girls have always been around, but because their cruelty takes place beneath the radar of parents and teachers, it is the fist-in-the-face kind of bullying displayed by boys that gets most of the attention.
Brute strength is easier to see and leaves visible scars, but the emotional abuse that girls specialise in can be just as harmful.
Girls wage their wars in the frontline of social-emotional intelligence. Known as relational aggression, it includes tactics such as:
- Rumour-mongering, taunting, ostracism, exclusion, verbal abuse
- Body language such as eye-rolling and smirking.
- Other behaviours may include jostling someone on purpose, hiding their belongings or making fun of their appearance.
Of course, as girls, we’ve all been party to some of these behaviours, but when they occur repeatedly to one particular person, and that person does not retaliate, then it constitutes bullying.
How technology aids the bully
Technology, such as the Internet and cellphones, has also provided easy channels through which girls can project their hostilities.
It is much easier to do something nasty when you are not face-to-face with a person, and the Internet has become the new bathroom wall in terms of ruining someone’s reputation.
The start or end of a friendship becomes concrete at the click of a button on Facebook. The message is: you are either in or out.
Who are the bullies?
Who are the girls who use these passive-aggressive techniques to bully others into conforming?
The disturbing fact is that bullies are often the popular girls, held in high regard by peers, parents and staff members.
Girls who bully are perceived as powerful in the group, usually judged on criteria such as looks, wealth and status. These girls are typically confident, participative and often have strong verbal skills, as well as the ability to read social situations astutely.
Why bully others?
But with all this going for them, why do these girls bully others? The power dynamic behind bullying is that it elevates the status of the culprit by diminishing that of the victim.
A girl who bullies will belittle the person who is different, dominate the girl who is weaker, and neutralise the threat of a girl she sees as stronger.
Their own feelings of powerlessness
The need to manipulate and control others in the friendship realm is often driven by feelings of powerlessness in other areas of her life: her parents might be going through a divorce, or she might be suffering bullying at the hands of an older sibling.
Bullying is also largely fear-based – by creating a victim, the bullies turn attention away from their own real or perceived shortcomings, prop up their popularity by dominant behaviour and ensure a favourable place in the pecking order.
Which girls fall victim?
Often girls who become victims struggle to express themselves, they are not verbal and tend to have poor self-awareness, as well as an inadequate ability to read social dynamics.
A low emotional quotient means they can’t navigate the subtleties of the complex social interactions inherent in Girl World.w
Victims can also just be the different ones, the isolated or rejected ones – the girl who is still enthused by space travel when the others are moving on to pop stars.
When does girl bullying usually start?
Girl bullying tends to start in Grades 5, 6, and 7 when tween dynamics kick in and some girls start becoming emotionally and physically more grown up, as well as more susceptible to social pressures to fit in.
These years are the beginning of the process of finding a group that is a good match – the girls are trying out definitions of themselves according to characteristics like popular, sporty, clever or pretty. The pressure is on, and it is serious stuff.
How to ensure your child holds her own
Teach your chuld the definition of "friend"
So how do you ensure that your child holds her own in this social whirlwind? It may seem obvious, but you actually need to teach your child that the definition of a friend is someone who is positive and supportive.
Saying “Choose friends who are nice to you rather than mean to you” might sound obvious, but young girls who are caught up in the cycle of wanting to be popular with the “popular” crowd may lose sight of these common-sense ideas, and it can be devastating for their self-esteem.
Get her to focus on something she enjoys
Getting your child to focus on something she enjoys is key. Academics, sport or extra-murals feed into her definitions of self, and researchers have found that girls who are involved in these things are more resistant to relational aggression because their self-esteem is not limited to concerns about social standing.
These activities also provide opportunities to make friends who share similar interests. The risk of being bullied decreases dramatically if you have friends.
Work on your child's social intelligence
Working on your child’s social intelligence, self-awareness and emotional quotient are also crucial factors. They will help her understand what is going on and equip her with the assertiveness to deal with bullying should it arise.
Enlist in the school to help
Schools also play a crucial role in preventing bullying. The majority of children are bystanders, rather than victims or culprits, and can be mobilised through thoughtful interventions to speak out against victimization.
Schools should develop a clearly structured anti-bullying campaign that articulates expectations around caring behaviour, and rewards it, rather than simply handling bullying punitively.
Bullying can have effects later in life!
Being the victim of relational aggression is now seen as a trigger for issues in later life. If not checked, the resultant low self-esteem and depression can put girls on the path to a whole subset of poor self-image manifestations, such as abusive relationships, unwanted pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse and eating disorders.