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Bullying: Not Just a 'Boys Problem' Anymore

For generations, the words “schoolyard bully” often inspired images of overgrown boys using violence (or the threat of violence) to harass younger or smaller boys. And while bullying is still a widespread problem among male students, teen and adolescent girls are unfortunately also at risk for being bullied, or for bullying peers and classmates.

As is the case with male bullies, girls who bully generally engage in two types of bullying behaviors: 

  1. Direct (physical) bullying -- This type of bullying includes the more "traditional" means of youth harassment, such as hitting, slapping, shoving, yelling and threatening via face-to-face confrontations.
  2. Indirect (emotional) bullying -- Indirect or emotional bullying can consist of ostracizing a person from a group, spreading lies, starting rumors and leaving threatening messages. In recent years more students have harassed via text message or through notes posted to online social networking sites (a practice known as “cyberbullying”).

Writing in the January 2004 issue of Human Nature Review Mark Daims describes the devastating ways in which girl bullies can employ indirect measures to inflict pain upon their peers:

Victims live day to day at school wherein other girls talk about them and laugh amongst themselves about them in front of them, where they knock them down as they are passed in the hall, and where they suffer from a host of subterfuges as the bullies tell the teacher the victim cheats or place orders at weight-loss establishments that later call the victim's home.

Understandably the victims go home and cry every day.

The ring-leader or mastermind of their torment is usually a close friend, even a best friend, who may provide just enough occasional recognition of the victim to keep her hopeful and coming back for more abuse. Teachers are unaware, unsure, or deceived.

Physical and Psychological Torment

Daims' account, of course, in no way implies that girl bullies are somehow "above" resorting to physical abuse in their attempts to terrorize their victims.

For example, according to an April 8, 2008, article on the Fox News website, eight girls in Lakeland, Fla., were arrested for severely beating a classmate, then posting a video of the attack on YouTube:

One of the girls struck the 16-year-old victim on the head several times and then slammed her head into a wall, knocking her unconscious, according to a police report...

"When I saw my daughter in the emergency room, I didn't even recognize my own daughter," her father, Patrick Lindsay, said a recent news conference in front of their Florida home. "I just walked in and held her. I didn't want her to see me weep."

"I've never seen anybody's face disfigured like that."

How Schools Respond

Many colleges and universities feature anti-bullying and anti-hazing information on their websites, and incorporate this message into orientation sessions for incoming and returning students. But on the high school level, the problem does not always receive a similar degree of attention.

Because girls who bully are often among the most popular students -- and because they often also have a wide range of influence -- many victims of high school bullying are loathe to report their abuse, fearing that the ostracism and associated harassment will only get worse.

Also, because many young female bullies have become adept at using indirect means such as anonymous cyber-bullying, even girls who do reach out to their teachers or parents fear that they won't be able to identify their abusers or end their torment.

Ending the Abuse

If your child is being bullied, harassed or hazed at school, don't assume that this is merely a harmless rite of passage. Adolescent bullying can leave lasting scars (both physical and emotional), and ignoring the problem -- or simply hoping it will go away -- can only exacerbate the damage.

Contact your child's school and request a meeting with relevant personnel (teachers, counselors and perhaps the principal) to discuss your concerns and enlist their assistance to end the bullying.

If your child has been experiencing anxiety, depression or other psychological problems as a result of being harassed, consult with your family physician to determine the best course of treatment.

And if you discover that your child has been a perpetrator (has been bullying other students), realize that this is also a problem that may require mental health services. Girls who exhibit aggressive and abusive behavior toward peers may be expressing symptoms related to trauma, personality disorders, bipolar disorder or other issues.

Regardless of her role, if your daughter is involved with bullying, she needs help -- and you are the one who needs to make sure that she gets that help.

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