Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When Girls Bully Girls

I would like this post to focus on bullying that occurs between girls. I have been doing some reading recently and I'd like to introduce you to the idea of 'relational aggression.' I think this would be known more commonly to us as 'passive aggression.'

The reason I bring this up is because relational aggression tends to be most intense and apparent among girls in fifth through to the eighth grade - according to the National Association of School Psychologists (USA).

Acts of relational aggression can include:
- rumour spreading
- secret-divulging
- alliance-building
- backstabbing
- ignoring
- excluding from social groups and activities
- verbally insulting, and using hostile body language (i.e., eye-rolling and smirking)

These acts are very common - I'm sure we have all experienced them at some stage, regardless of our gender or age. What is more interesting to me (right now) is why students engage in this type of aggression. Typically the reasons include:
- jealousy
- need for attention
- anger
- fear of (or need for) competition.

The consequences on the victim of course, can be devastating, and should not need to be listed.

One reason girls choose this type of bullying rather than more direct acts of harassment is that the bully typically avoids being caught or held accountable. Girls who appear the most innocent may indeed be the most hostile in their actions and as a Teacher, this continues to concern me and keep me on my toes. Many perpetrators indeed get away with their actions because of their positive reputations or academic success and I remain aware and vigilant in relation to this.

How can we help as teachers and parents? Well at this point I agree with the suggestion that friendships should be encouraged based upon mutual interest, rather than social status. In the classroom this is very easy - group tasks are set according to the area of study, and students are closely monitored and evaluated. We undertake Bounceback emotional resilience activities and participate in Circle Time.

However outside of the classroom, if your child is a potential victim, this means organising more structured activities for your child. Developing your child's skills so they are better than just 'good' at something is so important - being able to feel positive and assured of personal strength is vital as far as keeping an individuals confidence buoyant and feelings resilient in the face of uncertainty.

This self confidence and self assurance should transfer and become useful when a young person finds themselves in increasingly unstructured social activities and environments - and these are inevitable as your child approaches adolescence. The fact that a parent continues to 'hang around' their child can easily be translated as 'helicoptering' and can end up a source of further anxiety for any young person.

As your child approaches adolescence I believe it is important also to engage actively in 'letting go' - but ensuring your child has the right tools to move forward is also integral to social success. I believe this is the necessary focus in moving any potential relational aggressive situation to a more positive and less anxious place.

If you would like to read more about relational aggression I suggest you visit this website.

You can also read about the 'Ophelia Project' that discusses programs to reduce the incidence of relational aggression in young women's lives - I am currently continuing my reading with a focus on this area.

If you think your child may be a bully - this is the article for you! My advice to parents of potential bullies is to be brave and have the courage to listen openly to those around you - you are not being blamed, but the child's behaviour simply must be changed and we need to work on it together.

My 'old favourite' text as far as girls relationships are concerned is 'Queen Bees and Wannabes' By Rosalind Wiseman. You can read more about it and purchase a copy here. Wiseman aims to 'create a culture of dignity' and I couldn't agree more.

We all need to work together to make a young adolescent girl's life a more comfortable place to be - and certainly keep the conversation open so we can aim for improvement.

Finally, I would certainly recommend school or private counseling to any family who finds they are facing challenges with bullying or relational aggression. It will assist in the creation of a coordinated approach and monitor changes and challenges in such situations - often too large or a task for even the most organised and focused family.