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When Girls Are Bullies

A sad gril slumps down against a brick wall

Do you remember your first bully—the girl who called you fat, mocked your choice in clothes, or spread false rumors about you? Of course you do. It’s like a first kiss, a first drink, the first time you drove a car. Only this is a memory you wish you could forget. You may not recall her exact words, but you remember the girl, the time, the place. Did you ever wonder why she did it, what provoked her meanness, how she got to wield so much power?

Bullying is an intentional act of aggression in which the perpetrator belittles, controls, intimidates or harms another person. Attacks are often unprovoked, and exploit an individual’s vulnerabilities or weakness. Although male bullying is typically straightforward, often involving physical aggression or blatantly hostile taunts, female bullying may be more subtle, and therefore, harder to detect. For girls, bullying can be a means of gaining popularity, jockeying for power among peers, or asserting control. Since it is more covert, teachers and parents may overlook clues, or assume the behavior is just a normal part of social interactions.

Some forms that bullying can take include:

  • Deliberate exclusion, alienation, or ostracism of a peer for no apparent reason
  • Verbal attacks, such as spreading rumors or lies by word of mouth or on the internet
  • Making prank phone calls, or sending harassing e-mails or text messages
  • Overt forms of aggression, such as stealing, making threats, or name-calling
  • Covert forms of derision or humiliation, such as giggling or whispering about the victim when she is nearby, eye-rolling, being friendly one day and ignoring her the next
  • Encouraging other girls to act out against, ignore, humiliate or pick on another child

So, why do girls resort to bullying? Reasons vary, but usually include a need for control, attention, and approval, or an outlet for anger. Girls who bully may appear threatening and commit hurtful acts, but they often harbor underlying insecurities that fuel their behaviors. Some feel lonely, inadequate, and fearful, and bully to feel powerful or hide their insecurity. Some attack first before they are attacked by others. Some are angry about problems at home and lash out at peers. Occasionally, girls who bully learn these behaviors at home due to family members who are abusive or because of a hostile neighborhood environment. Popularity is no safeguard, since often the girls who bully are those who seem to have it all. Frequently, the pretty, popular, athletic girls are the ringleaders who foster a culture of bullying, even though they may have already acquired power in the social hierarchies of their schools.

The process of bullying can develop slowly over time. Girls who are popular and charismatic may attract others into their circle of friends and make them feel special. They may then try to control these girls, expect favors, or demand that the new girls bully others as well. By controlling a group of peers, bullies achieve power in numbers and go on to terrorize teens they believe are a threat. Individual victims can be targeted at random, but are often selected because of jealousy, noticeable differences, refusal to conform to the group, or a weakness that can be exploited. Bullying also can be sparked by a sudden turn of events in a friendship, where the bully feels threatened and angry, and decides that she must retaliate.

While punches are not thrown, bullying can leave a devastating mark on its victim and engender long-lasting pain and suffering. Girls are particularly vulnerable because of how much they value friendships. Victims can become depressed, anxious, insecure, and feel they are to blame. Obsessive preoccupation with perceived flaws, physical appearance, conformity, and adhering to the bully’s rules of conduct can follow. Conversely, some girls who are bullied become isolated, withdrawn, and even drop out of school. In rare instances, victims can become so depressed and hopeless that they consider suicide as their only option.

Victims often remain silent due to embarrassment, self-blame, or fear of retaliation, so incidents of bullying may go unnoticed. Investigate whether bullying is occurring if your loved one, friend, or student is showing any of the following signs: mood swings, sudden withdrawal from friends, refusal to attend school or social events, sleep problems, academic difficulties, physical complaints, weight loss or gain, or frequent crying.

If you suspect that someone you know is being bullied, it is important to offer support. Reassure the victim that the bullying will end eventually, and that you will help her identify strategies for addressing the problem. One size does not fit all, so a variety of strategies and interventions should be considered depending on the specific situation. Useful websites with anti-bullying tips are listed below. Sometimes getting advice from a therapist or guidance counselor can help. Girls who bully also benefit from counseling, where they can learn to take responsibility for their behaviors and identify appropriate outlets for their anger and need for control.

Prevention is essential, and needs to come from both the family and community. Parents need to discuss bullying with their children, even before it occurs. Teaching girls how to respond to potentially difficult situations, before a problem develops, is critical. Helping young girls improve their self-esteem by developing strong academic, athletic or extracurricular interests, and finding friends who share similar interests (so that social standing is not as critical), may minimize their vulnerability to falling victim. Schools should offer anti-bullying initiatives, including training for staff, programs for students, and counseling services when necessary. When parents, schools, and the community promote an environment where bullying is unacceptable, perhaps fewer girls (and boys) will have to encounter that first bully.

Anti-Bullying Resources and Information:

 

© Copyright 2011 by Gail Post, PhD, therapist in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Amy November 28th, 2011 at 3:55 PM #1

    I know that people say that little girls can’t be bullies, bit believe me, sometimes their words hurt a whole lot more than the physical bullying can. Think about how hard words like these can impact you, and how you not only think about yourself but what others come to believe about you too. That is some serious damage that is very hard to overcome.

  • michelle robertson November 28th, 2011 at 11:31 PM #2

    I was bullied in school.and the perpetrator was the most famous girl in school.it was not just me but a few others as well.there was no apparent reason why she used to bully us but it was there.and the teachers offered no help because everybody thought she was the nicest girl in school.well atleast thats how she behaved in their presence.

    I am thankful it didnt affect me too much but one girl dropped out of school because of her and this makes me hate every bully out there.they do these things for no reason or mistake of the sufferer and the consequences could be disastrous for the victim.

  • Sean November 29th, 2011 at 5:20 AM #3

    It is hard to admit here in this forum, but after reading this I realize that my daughter is the bully, and not the one being bullied. And that is so hard to face because I thought that my wife and I had done a better job at teaching her right from wrong, but I guess I was wrong. It is so hard to face that when you love your child so much but then you hear about this different side to her and how her words and actions are hurting others. That is something that is hard to reconcile. It is no excuse, but it is still something that my family has been struggling with for a while.

  • M-ily November 29th, 2011 at 10:25 AM #4

    topic needs more exposure.many people out there will never accept that girls can be bullies too,just because there is no physical intimidation involved(which could well happen at times).anybody can be a bully and it only hurts the victim even more if you don;t acknowledge their complaint.

  • marcia g November 29th, 2011 at 12:47 PM #5

    It is difficult to know how to get your kids to address this when it is happening to them.

    First you may have no idea why it is happening to them in the firts place. These mean gorls seemingly choose their victims randomly, someone that they perceive to be weak and who they can overcome.

    Second you want your chaild to be able to take up for herself, but there are going to be adults that they encounter along the way who will accuse them of making a mountain out of a molehill.

    It is that kind of reaction that will keep them from ever telling anyone that this kind of victimization is even happening to them.

  • Ela November 29th, 2011 at 2:54 PM #6

    Used to be that you would never think of girls doing stuff like that. . . sugar and spice and all that jazz you know. . . but now, whew! girls can be so cruel!

  • Gail Post November 29th, 2011 at 8:58 PM #7

    I just wanted to respond to Sean, in particular. It takes a lot of courage to admit that your child might be involved in bullying other children. This is the first step toward not only solving a problem that could hurt other children, but also toward helping your own daughter learn how to manage her feelings. Many girls grow up to feel guilty and confused about their history of bullying. Working with your child to help her learn how to change this behavior, rather than ignoring it, denying that it is a problem, or assuming it will go away on its own, is essential. Good luck.

  • henry November 30th, 2011 at 8:19 AM #8

    Although I ws never bullied as a child I saw quite a few girls bullying other girls nd it always surprised me because everywhere u see they treat girls like they cn never be bullies nd it is hard to even convince the elders that it is possible.but they can be bad eggs in both sexes right?

  • RENEE November 30th, 2011 at 4:57 PM #9

    BULLYING IS WRONG, WE ALL KNOW THAT. AND SO MANY TIMES THE GIRLS ARE LET GO SCOT FREE BECAUSE THEY ARE GIRLS. IT IS LIKE THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE OF THE SITUATION THINK THAT GIRLS CAN’T DO THIS. BUT WE NEED TO SHOW THEM THAT THERE HAS TO BE PUNISHMENT FOR BULLYING AND THAT THEY CAN’T BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE THAT KIND OF BEHAVIOR.

  • How to Help your Child Deal with Bullies January 12th, 2012 at 2:56 PM #10

    [...] Articles: When Girls are Bullies How to Respond to Bullying Sibling Abuse – Children Abusing Other [...]

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