Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do Girls Just Wanna "Really" Have Fun???

The special dynamic of the female bully is something that deserves a bit of its own blog space. Bullying between girls is often more psychological than physical. It can also be a bit sneakier. According to the book Bullying from Both Sides, by Walter Roberts, bullying between girls is called “relational aggression.” This term is appropriate as it connects girls to the Western societal emphasis that girls are raised to focus on relationships and communication (p. 59).

What does a bully-girl look like? The bully-girl reflects come “typical” characteristics (note typical does not mean every bully-girl displays these). The bully-girl is often popular and well-liked by adults. She does well in school and can even be friends with the girls she bullies. Fist fights are not her style. Rumors, gossip, revealing secrets, and exclusion of others are her methods of operation. Often she bullies in a group and, because of her status with others, she will often be joined by others or even pressured by others to bully to maintain her power position. The consequences of the bully-girl are serious and destructive, as much or more than with physical bullying. The target can experience anxiety, depression, low self-concept and/or show signs of being a target through a drop in academic performance, poor eating habits, complaints of excessive illness, or even show signs of self-harm. According to the National Crime Prevention Council’s information on the bully-girl, most adults don’t even know when a girl is being treated this way.

So what do parents do when they believe their daughter may be being bullied? As a former administrator and a current parent of a teenage daughter I can assure you that picking up the phone and calling the parent of the bully-girl or marching over to her home is NOT the best solution. Getting a handle on the situation is imperative if time allows for such discovery. Unless there is imminent physical danger, which would warrant a call to the school administrator or counselor, interjecting oneself into the dynamic is the last resort. First, remember that while you cannot “solve” the entire problem at hand, you can help the target realize that a bully is only a bully IF there is a target. I firmly believe that addressing the target must be a part of the entire resolution process. There is a reason a target is a target. It is not, however, the target’s fault if she is being bullied and to communicate fault would be unacceptable and flat out untrue. Watch for signs your daughter is being bullied. Look at her body language and her eyes, listen to her tone of voice and her words, and when you see signs, don’t dismiss them as a passing phase.

What should be done about the bully-girl? I believe punishment of a bully alone will NOT stop the pattern of the bully’s learned behavior. In the book Bullying from Both Sides, the author devotes an entire chapter to the strategic intervention focused on giving the bully attention because “they are kids, too.” This seems so counter to our culture, especially if we are a zero tolerance system, but bullies are bullies because they have learned behavior that must be changed. Most girls (and boys for that matter) cannot change a learned behavior without support and encouragement and thoughtful intervention. There is no “quick fix” for remediation of a learned behavior. The learned behavior of the bully must be replaced with a more appropriate and empowering behavior at the same time the bully is being held accountable for her actions. A bully-girl needs to tell her story and be heard beyond the surface. Education must take place about boundaries and behaviors that are acceptable. Simply requiring a change in behavior without providing alternate behaviors is futile. As humans, we all revert to what we know when we are being challenged outside out comfort zones and not given support to succeed.

As you can see, interestingly enough, both players in a bully-target dynamic need attention and intervention. Our girls are in need of our attention in this unique relational dynamic. Everyone must step up and be accountable for addressing the bully-girl. The way I see it, the end of bullying begins with me. Consider the words from the book “Black Beauty”: My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.

Coloroso, Barbara. The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. Harper-Collins Publisher, 2008
Roberts, Walter. Bullying from Both Sides. Corwin Press, 2006.
Wiseman, Rosalind. Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Goddip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World. Three Rivers Press, 2002


Monday, April 15, 2013

Identifying a Bully: One Third of the Tragedy

Bullies are not a certain size or shape or color. They are not identified by the type of music they listen to or the church they attend. A bully can be the popular kid or the kid or the kid who is disliked by many. A bully can be the athlete or the drama student or the trombone player. Bullies are not categorized as such by their looks but by their actions. In her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, Barbara Coloroso indicates that bullying is a “conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and create terror.” There are three elements that will always be present in a bully situation: imbalance of power, intent to harm, and threat of further aggression. The fourth element, terror, is added when bullying has escalated because nothing has been successful in stopping it. So what is the “profile” of a bully? While there are different types of bullies, common characteristics include: enjoyment in dominating others, being unable to see a situation from another’s vantage point, using others to get what is wanted, selfish to the point of disregarding the rights and feelings of others, tending to hurt others when someone in a position of higher authority is absent, refusing to accept responsibility for one’s own actions, projecting one’s own inadequacies through the use of blame, sarcasm, and false allegations onto others, viewing weaker people as “prey”, and craving attention. While this is not an exhaustive list, it is pretty comprehensive and can be used as a point of reference. The main motivation for a bully is contempt fueled by arrogance. Bullies have a sense of entitlement and superiority about themselves. This is, of course, a cover up for their inadequacies. So, what happens when a bully is “caught”? The bully’s behavior will most likely deny any wrongdoing, trivialize his/her actions by calling is “fun”, claim self defense and cast the other person as the bully, or even count on the support (by way of apathy or fear) of the bystander(s). Bullying is not something that anyone should consider “normal childhood behaviors.” It is antisocial and must be addressed through the proper channels, protocols, and/or procedures already in place. Bullying is a social problem and will take the efforts of all of us to come up with a solution.

For additional information on bullying, including videos and true stories, visit Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center at

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Our Schools’ Responsibilities in Addressing Bullying and Harassment

While there is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying, state legislators in all fifty states have made it a priority to have law, policy, or both law and policy on this highly relevant topic. Federally, when it is related to color, race, national origin, gender, disability, or religion there are policies in place that do address these protected groups as discriminatory in nature. While each state has the latitude to establish its own approach to addressing bullying and harassment, there are common connections between states.  These connections include a purpose statement, a statement of scope, specifications of prohibited conduct, a list of specific characteristics of bully/harassment, components of policy (such as reporting, investigating and responding, and keeping written records), and information regarding training staff and developing a communication plan. To find specifics regarding a particular state, visit for information.
Iowa has both policy and law in place to address bullying/harassment in its school districts. The state mandated that all school districts have an anti-bullying/harassment comprehensive plan in place by September 1, 2007. School accreditation is directly connected to this expectation.  The expectations for schools are outlined clearly on the Department of Education’s website at Click on the link to “A-Z Index” and scroll down the list to the letter “B” under which you will find the “bullying” information. Basically, Iowa policy and law addresses the following:
*definition of bullying and harassment that is consistent with the state legislation
*a statement that bullying and harassment are against the law
*a statement that makes the policy applicable to school employees, volunteers, and  students
*a statement that addresses consequences for those who violate the policy
*a procedure to report and investigate complaints
*a procedure to communicate information to parents, students, staff, and community members.

Iowa also offers a decision matrix for districts to use to guide them in making decisions regarding situations that may arise. Iowa also offers an appeal document for open enrollment situations involving bullying and/or harassment. This information is very valuable and should be consulted in any event bullying and/or harassment becomes a problem for any child, resident or open-enrolled.

At one time during their educational journey our children will be the target of bullying/harassing behaviors, exhibit behaviors that are considered bullying/harassment, witness situations in which they observe a bully/target dynamic, or all of these. It is imperative that parents know how to prevent and respond to situations involving bullying/harassment. A great place to begin is with a basic knowledge and understanding of the law and how it pertains to an individual state and local school district within the respective state. After one has a basic grasp of the legal obligation of schools, securing a better understanding of the dynamic of those involved is important in prevention and response situations.