According to recent studies, boys are three to four times more likely to engage in bullying-type behaviors than girls. While traditionally the focus on resolving bullying issues has been geared towards interventions with male students, public schools are now realizing how girls too may be engaging in as much, and often more, bully-related activities that are often overlooked by administrators, teachers, and parents.
As educator Renee Wilson-Simmons supports, “Until recently, the word bully usually conjured up an image of a boy bigger and stronger his age, who knocked kids around, demanded money and ‘favors’ […] Today, the public is less likely to assume bullying is the sole province of boys, as the media have reported on increases in official rates of female arrests for assault, weapon carrying, and gang activity.”
This video examines female bullying.
As investigators are studying the ways in which girls bully each other, experts are working with public schools to help all students, regardless of gender, find alternatives to these negative behaviors.
The Rise of Female Bullying
How the Actions are Ignored
As Renee Wilson-Simmons reveals, the stereotype of bullying has been traditionally based on the concept that boys only harassed other boys. As investigators engage in more research, however, experts are discovering that girls too often act as powerful bullies; however, their bullying behavior is overlooked due to the often quiet and passive negative actions that are associated with these activities. As Wilson-Simmons explains, “Although a range of studies has found that boys bully and are bullied more than girls […] Girls tend to practice more subtle and covert forms of bullying that are often difficult for outsiders to detect and estimate.”
Essentially, while boys may be engaging in more physical bullying confrontations, girls, on the other hand, tend to engage in more verbal and/or social confrontations. As The Reading Eagle’s news correspondent Susan Edelman further reports, bullying among females, as it is often unnoticed, tends to be more evident as girls engage in behaviors such as: “Ostracizing others, holding grudges, sabotaging relationships, manipulating others and plotting mischief.”
Providing further insight into these patterns and behaviors, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) asserts that these bullying behaviors are actually defined as behaviors of “relational aggression.” In these cases, “Acts of relational aggression are common among girls in American schools. These acts can include rumor 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).” With these often non-verbal techniques, authorities have a harder challenge when trying to catch and/or reprimand females for bullying behavior—it’s just less noticeable that two students physically fighting. As NASP also adds, “Other behaviors include making fun of someone's clothes or appearance and bumping into someone on purpose. Many of these behaviors are quite common in girls' friendships, but when they occur repeatedly to one particular victim, they constitute bullying.”
The Causes of Female Bullying
Many times, unlike girls, boys may bully due to personal issues, such as esteem, desire for attention, the struggle for power, and so forth. Girls, on the other hand, are often motivated by a different catalyst. As Wilson-Simmons explains, “Bullying among girls is often relational in nature. It involves socially isolating and ostracizing others through verbal bullying, such as teasing, rumor-spreading, and threatening harm; malicious graffiti; cruel practical jokes; cyberbullying (online social cruelty) and stealing or destroying property.”
This video from the Barbara Sinatra Center is aimed at elementary school students.
By engaging in these socially-specific negative actions, some experts surmise that bullying is actually young girls’ attempts to learn social skills. As Edelman reveals, “These are the ages when kids begin to change friends. They become involved in certain sports and exclude kids who are not involved in the same activities. Because the exclusion is quiet, it often happens in the hall or at lunch or at recess, teachers have a hard time detecting it.” Supporting this potential catalyst for bullying, researchers are discovering that many of these behaviors are showing up in public schools as early as at the 4th-grade level; however, a majority of these behaviors are manifested in the middle school years, most likely when girls are going through social changes and shifting social dynamics.
Female Bullying: Public School Reactions
As public schools continue to learn more about the patterns of negative bullying behavior among females, leaders are experimenting with a variety of techniques and approaches in order to stimulate positive change. The first step in approaching this issue, however, is to understand how it’s appearing in each unique school and community. As Edelman supports with viewpoints from an administrative interview, “‘There is bullying going on. We need a clear definition of what bullying is,’ […] the problem can only be addressed if it is openly recognized.”
Since female bullying is often passive-aggressive and non-verbal, students often must be the leaders in stimulating change. As one school principal in Edelman’s article advocates, “‘Don’t keep silent […] The bullying will continue if you let it. Many students are reluctant to tell because they’re leery of retribution (from the bully). They think it will go away.”’ While this is a commonly held belief, many school administrators report that once female bullies are brought to administrative and teachers’ attention, the bullies respond and shift their behavior immediately.
This ABCNews report discusses how 160,000 children stay home from school out of fear of being bullied.
To stimulate a change, school leaders report to Edelman that students need to “Speak up and tell bullies to stop it. They can befriend and include victims of bullying. And, bystanders should seek help from adults.” To encourage students to stand up and speak out, many public schools and experts are learning that young girls need to engage in behaviors that foster greater esteem and confidence. As Wilson-Simmons adds, “The most-promising approaches engage girls in ways that make them feel more confident and powerful on their own, so they feel less need to denigrate other girls. Mentoring is another tool for engaging girls constructively, as is the sports arena, which can hone girls’ sense of fairness and team solidarity.”
While each public school must design their own consequences and preventative bullying programs, along with parental assistance in overcoming bullying, the rise in female bullying behaviors is certainly bringing revisions and research to the forefront of public school leaders’ attention.
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