Just as many girls as boys are bullies but girls more often target other girls. Girls do bully other girls physically. One publicized example is the Florida girls who beat up a classmate and then posted the video on YouTube.
However, most girl-girl bullying is verbal and emotional. Seven of the nine bullies were girls in the publicized case that led to the recent suicide of Phoebe Prince. Their attacks on Phoebe were choreographed, strategically planned and relentlessly executed. The abuse was verbal, physical and through cyber space.
“Mean girls” are masters of catty remarks, put-downs, scorn, mockery, criticism, sarcasm, cyber bullying and forming cliques led by a Queen Bee. Mean girls are also masters of covert, “stealth bullying;” backstabbing, rumor-mongering, telling secrets, cutting out and spreading gossip and innuendo while pretending to be friends.
Girl bullies often are control-freaks and emotional blackmailers. Common bullying statements are, “If you don’t do what I want, you’re not my best friend, “ or “My best friend wouldn’t talk to that other girl,” or “You hurt my feelings, you’re a false friend.” They often set up boys to attack their targets.
Boys tend to use overt physical tactics more than girls.
Girls: it’s easy to tell if you’re being overtly bullied; it’s harder to tell if the bullying is stealthy. You’re probably being bullied if you’re feeling controlled, forced to do things you don’t want to do, scared of what another girl might do to you, afraid of getting ostracized or ganged up on, or not wanting to go to school at all. Trust your gut and talk to your parents no matter how reluctant you are.
Parents: the major signs that your daughter is being bullied are unexplained, 180 degree changes in behavior. For example, no longer talking about school or friends, not wanting to be with classmates, spending all her time in her room, avoiding checking text messages, social web sites or answering the phone, no longer doing homework, not eating lunch at school, stopping after-school activities, wanting to change or quit school, loss of weight, chewing fingernails, not caring about appearance, can’t sleep, nightmares, loss of confidence and self-esteem, emotionally labile (crying suddenly alternating with explosive anger and temper tantrums alternating with despondency and depression – “I’m helpless, it’s hopeless”). Be careful; teenagers typically go through periods of these behaviors. Parents must check out the causes. Be persistent. Don’t be stopped by initial resistance. If your daughter is being bullied, parents must proceed down two paths simultaneously:
- Teach your daughter how to protect herself.
- Make teachers, principals and school district administrators protect targets.
Bullying at school is rarely an isolated event. Usually there is a pervasive pattern of overlooking, minimizing, denying, tolerating or even encouraging bullying. Strategies for how parents can proceed depend on the situations they’re dealing with; especially the people. The bottom line is that most, but not all, principals want to avoid the subject, do nothing, cover-up with platitudes, avoid law suits and won’t confront bullying parents who protect their darling little bullies.
Beware of principals who think that their primary task is to understand, rehabilitate or therapeutize bullies. You will have to get other parents involved and be very tactical in order to get principals to act firmly and effectively. There is one absolute “Don’t.” Every female client and every woman who has interviewed me said that they were verbally bullied when they were young. Unfortunately, their mothers told them, “Rise above the bully. That bully is hurting so much inside that they’re taking their pain and inferiority out on you. Understand and forgive them. You’re better than they are. If you act nice enough, people will return your kindness with kindness.”
Every one of these bullied women bears deep wounds including stress, anxiety, negative self-talk, lack of confidence and self-esteem problems. They also bear an underlying hatred of their mothers for those messages. Those messages are absolutely wrong. Mothers must teach their daughters how to protect themselves, not how to act like willing victims.
Remember, the Golden Rule doesn’t stop real-world bullies. Prepare your daughters for the real-world they’ll face in school, at work, in intimate relationships and with friends.