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