The typical image we have of a bully is a brawny teenage boy who pushes kids into lockers and steals their lunch money. But girl bullies are a growing problem that schools and law enforcement are struggling to control.
Girl bullies are harder to identify and their behaviors are generally different from what we typically think of as bullying, says Joronda Montano, program director for notMYkid, a Scottsdale nonprofit organization dedicated to identifying and preventing negative youth behavior.
What is bullying?
“It’s important to understand what bullying is. It’s not just kids being mean,” says Montano. Bullying involves three key aspects:
- Intentional aggressive behavior. This can be physical, verbal or social.
- Recurring actions or something that is likely to reoccur. A one-time confrontation does not constitute bullying.
- Imbalance of power. Real or perceived, the imbalance of power can involve strength, social status, access to embarrassing information or popularity.
What does girl bullying look like?
“Bullying is usually more social and emotional for girls, and they often do it for popularity or status,” says Montano. “If a girl gets bullied, it is usually by a circle of friends that she is involved with, and they start using her as a target.”
Because the bullies were once considered friends, it can be very difficult to break off relationships and avoid the bullying.
Another complicated aspect of girl bullies is that they often use cyberbullying as a weapon. This can include texting or posting mean messages on social media with the intent to spread rumors, share embarrassing information, harass (sexually or otherwise), ostracize or demonstrate exclusion.
Is girl bullying dangerous?
Bullying can leave lasting scars in victims, creating depression and anxiety.
“Adults often remember, 20 years later, the details of their childhood bullies,” says Montano. “You remember how they made you feel.”
The decisions that a person who is being bullied makes also can be dangerous. When someone is bullied, they must find a way to cope. Negative coping behaviors can include substance abuse, self-harm and even suicide.
Positive coping behaviors can include journaling, creative expression through the arts, meditation, joining new groups and organizations, volunteering or giving back to the community in some way.
Without support and positive coping skills, victims of bullying are at greater risk of entering unhealthy relationships later in life. They often feel there is something wrong with them—that they deserve to be mistreated.
How to stop girl bullies?
Parents can help prevent their daughters from being bullied by supporting their growth as self-confident individuals who avoid comparing themselves to others or relying on outside approval for their happiness.
A girl who has been outcast by peers will be less likely to suffer from repeated bullying if she projects a message that says: “I’m OK with who I am.”
Teach daughters—not just sons—about bullying behavior and reinforce the message that it’s not acceptable. Children also need support to avoid becoming passive “bystanders” who are reluctant to engage when they observe others being bullied.
Bullies can’t establish power without bystanders, says Montano. Parents must teach kids to speak up when they see peers being mistreated and seek responsible adults to intervene when necessary.
Most importantly, parents need to keep the lines of communication open. Routinely check in with your child to see how things are going with their friends and at school. Ask them about their Internet use and their friends’ social media postings.
If there is a chance your daughter is slipping into bullying behavior, be careful not to label her a “bully.” Instead talk about how to treat people appropriately and how to repair any damage or hurt feelings they have caused.
When to report bullying
When bullying is repetitive and crosses the line to a point where it is harassing or dangerous, it is time to report it to authorities.
Report bullying to the child’s school even if it’s not occurring on the school campus. The Arizona Department of Education has developed a bullying policy. Be persistent about helping to create a plan so the behavior doesn’t continue.
Law enforcement should be called in when violence, harassment and threats are involved.
For more information or to learn about anti-bullying programs, call 603-652-0163 or visit notmykid.org.