- Gender and Relationships
Girl Bullies: Females Bullying Becoming More Common
Why Do Girls Bully Others?
Although there have been several teen flicks about the subject of girl bullies, it is not funny at all. Girls can be brutally mean to each other. Getting through middle school and high school for some teenagers can be extremely difficult as a result of bullying from groups of girls. Popular, influential cliques can even influence boys, as well, ostracizing the targeted victim with potentially serious consequences. In short, girl bullies can be a big problem.
Experts say that the damage inflicted by girls can be insidious and more difficult to detect at times. Among other things, abuse includes gossip, rumors, exclusion, ostracizing, and manipulation. Unlike boys that generally fight with fists, a young woman may come home from school as a result of girl bullies without any physical signs of trauma. But the scars are definitely there.
As news clips have shown, even fists can fly. In Florida in early 2008, a gang of girl bullies, 6 girls, ages 14-17, lured a friend to a house, had two boys stand look-out outside and beat her for 1/2 hour while they video-taped the entire scene. The victim ended up with a concussion, a black eye, and damage to an ear. Assault charges are being filed against the teens, that they apparently don't even take seriously! They laughed and joked with the arresting officers, wondering if they could make it to cheer practice, or their beach vacation..... The perpetrators' intent was that they would post the assault on MySpace and have 15 minutes of fame. They hoped to get back at the girl for posting insults there herself.
What can be done? How can you know if your daughter is a bully, or being bullied? Are the schools and other social groups helpless in curbing the abuses that continue with sometimes tragic results from girl bullies?
One sad statistic is that each day, more than 160,000 students do not want to go to school because of teasing, abuse, and/or loneliness resulting from actions by their peers. You can bet that at least half of these are young women. Of these scared, anxious kids, some turn to self-destructive behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, or other risky activities in order to cope.
Getting Picked On
Potential Signs of Peer Abuse Indicating Girl Bullies
- Lost interest in activities
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Sudden, unexplained weight gain
- Drop in grades
- Secretive behavior
- Excessive crying
- Excuses not to go to school
- Acts aggressive towards siblings or pets
- Has difficulty sleeping
- Changes friends, or stops talking about friends
- Acts differently
If you suspect your child is being bullied at school, definitely talk to them to try to find out more information first. Even if they do not open up, you may be advised to call your pediatrician for a referral to a qualified counselor.
Laura's Story* (true story - name changed)
Laura was a beautiful, thin, attractive blonde girl. She was very popular in 5th and 6th grade. She danced ballet, was in girl scouts, went to church, and was generally thought of as a good friend to a group of girls she had grown up with since pre-school. In middle school (7th and 8th grade), things started to change. Laura and her friends got to know another group of girls from two other schools. Without really knowing what she said or did, eventually Laura's long-term friends starting sitting at the other lunch tables, away from her. They crossed the hall when she came towards them, and shied away from her in the bathroom. Things escalated pretty quickly when Laura found "bitch" scribbled on her locker, and her friends stopped returning her phone calls.
Laura lost interest in ballet and scouts within 3 months of school starting. She dropped about 15 pounds before Christmas. Her mom noticed and tried to ask what was going on. At first, Laura tried to remain upbeat, but her mom couldn't ignore the fact that Laura truly had no friends within about a 2-month period. Laura spent most of her time in her bedroom after school crying and talking to and petting her cat.
Laura's mom talked to the principal, who informed her that it would "blow over," and that there was nothing he could do. She also talked to the mothers of some of Laura's friends who had abandoned her. These mothers, unfortunately, were defensive and not supportive. Laura's mother even talked to the priest of their church, and could not get adequate help. Sadly, Laura's ordeal continued through most of high school, although it was most intensive the first 2 years. Laura later said that she seriously wished that she could have committed suicide, but she was too scared and did not know of a good way to do so.
Laura is one of the lucky ones. She made it through. She's alive today. It is now 18 years past the date when the bullying first started and there are STILL some women that cannot be Laura's friend in the community as a result of the middle school fiasco.
Girl Bullying is Devastating
What is the Psychology behind Bullying?
Of the teens that enjoy ganging up on victims (girls and boys alike), many have similar psychological issues. However, there is definitely not a one-size-fits-all parameter in which all children fit. Generally speaking some of the following factors may come into play:
- Abuse at home
- Lack of attention at home
- High intelligence/failure to be challenged
- Thrill of power
- Fear of abandonment
Along with the leader of the gang, is a group of by-standers. Those that are grateful not to be the victim, but too scared not to stand up for her. They go along to get along (with the ring-leader). Unfortunately, these kids often can cause the most damage to the psyche of the victim - even more than the bullying leader. As in the case with Laura, above, all of her former friends became by-standers, going along with the instigator(s). They failed to stand up for her and left her completely isolated without any support system.
Often, parents of the children that get caught in the middle can stop the destructive cycle. If you find that your daughter is no longer calling a long-time friend, gently try to get to the bottom of it. See if there are genuine reasons for her change of heart, or if she may be in the midst of a more sinister manipulation.
One woman shared her memories of such an experience. "Kristin," sadly remembers her role as a member of a mob who literally drove a victim out of their middle school. "Out of terror that we would be shut out (instead of the victim), we excluded her, passed rumors about her, made prank phone calls, toilet-papered her house. We did this for years and years."
Kristin has no recollection why the bully targeted the particular girl, or what triggered the abusive actions. But she remembers feeling terrible for her, "even though I didn't do anything to her directly, I never did anything to help." Eventually the victim changed schools.
What Bullying is Not About
- Social Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Any type of handicap
An instigator may pick any person as a victim, regardless of the factors above. Yes, its true that some people may get "picked on" more than others. However, some bullies may find themselves jealous of an attractive, otherwise popular person and choose to start a rumor about that girl. Next thing you know, if circumstances are right, the popular person could soon become a victim of ostracism or other abusive tactics.
21st Century Tactics in Bullying
Things are a bit different now than they were when Laura was the victim of middle school peer abuse. Teens now have cell phones with the ability to text message, take photos, and instant message (IM). Rumors now can be spread exponentially faster, not to mention with media attachments and potential invasion of privacy concerns (photos in locker rooms, etc.). Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites give plenty of other opportunities to ostracize teens, rather than be-friend them, as well.
Of course, as with text messaging, the Internet is a lightening fast way to spread lies and misinformation about victims. Pretending to be a fake friend and then exposing yourself as such is a nasty way to make fun of a person, and in one sad case, led to a girl's suicide (Megan Meier, 13 years old).
In this case, it was a twisted adult who posed as the made-up friend on MySpace, rather than a teen bully. That was perhaps the most shocking aspect of the case. Parents and guardians should take note of this outcome and be watchful of their childrens' computer and cell phone use to ensure appropriate limits and try to have some knowledge of the "friends" they are making online.
Moreover, as the Florida teen assault case shows, some kids use the Internet as a vehicle to "show off" and role play. The gang of girls videotaped their beating of a fellow cheerleader and intended to post the show on MySpace. They couldn't even believe they had done anything wrong, even after being arrested and held for over a week in jail!
Increase Awareness About Female Bullying
Female bullying is a serious issue that cannot be ignored just because it comes without scratches or scrapes. The young girls that experience it growing up may carry its effects into adulthood. Alcoholism, eating disorders, smoking and other issues may be avoided if a teenage woman is recognized as a victim and given professional help (if necessary). Sadly, some girls slip through the cracks and do not get proper assistance. Even if their parents try to help, they end up in the depths of despair, with tragic results at times.
Fortunately, there are many resources and trained therapists that can help! Girls are recognized as being able to injure just as seriously - if not more so - than their male counterparts. Growing up is difficult, and there are bound to be some fights along the way. But if the scope, duration and magnitude of a "falling out" between your daughter and her friends appears to be beyond the scope of the norm, then its time to dig a little deeper and make sure she's not being victimized.