Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

None of us are strangers to bullying: vicious name-calling, physical fights, and even shoves into lockers or swirlies. Most of us have witnessed bullying or we have experienced bullying personally; it happens more often than we’d like to think. As parents, it can be frustrating and painful to watch a child be bullied, but it’s even worse when we don’t realize the bullying is happening. Bullying can be invisible (no bruises, no scrapes) especially with our daughters. Girls are just as likely to be instigators of bullying as boys, but it often goes unnoticed. Why?

The peer interactions of girls are more intellectual.

This is not to say that boys don’t communicate or can’t connect on an emotional level. They certainly do, but how boys bond and bully typically revolve around physical interactions. Girls, on the other hand, share stories and thoughts. They bond over school crushes and secrets, never dreaming that their confessions could come back to haunt them. They willingly offer personal information that, unfortunately, can be maliciously used against them. Even girls raised with strong self-esteem will suffer from bullying.

Girls bully within normal social interactions.

What makes bullying so hard to see among girls is that tactics like exclusion, gossip, and rumors are considered “normal.” It can seem like a popularity contest, or it can be completely random, but it’s all to help the bully to feel in control. It’s manipulative and far more insidious than a punch to the face. The entire goal of bullying is to make the bully feel more powerful, and what better way to do that than to completely ostracize or humiliate someone else?

The damage is long-lasting.

The major problem with the way that girls bully is that the damage doesn’t heal like a bruise. This type of emotional manipulation plays on self-esteem, and many of the perpetrators of bullying not only make the victim feel bad but betray trust to do so. Girls face enough societal pressure as it is, and it takes little to damage self-esteem. Mentions of someone being overweight or “easy” can make social interactions a living hell. The girls being bullied face challenges like eating disorders and depression, and it needs to be taken seriously. It is raw betrayal starting at elementary school ages, yet when there are no scrapes and bruises for proof, the bullying continues.

It’s very important that parents of girls pay close attention. Ask questions about your daughter’s day and get to know her friends. If she no longer socializes with a friend outside of school that she is normally with all the time, take notice. If there is a class your daughter is avoiding, or if she is now insisting on getting rides to school, gently pry into these changes. If she’s spending more time locked in her room or being quieter than normal, it should at the very least raise concern and cause you to open a dialogue.

As commonplace as bullying among girls may be, do not assume that this is a normal part of girls’ behavior. We don’t tolerate the “boys will be boys” mentality, and we certainly shouldn’t tolerate the “girls will be girls” mentality either.

No type of bullying is acceptable, and simply because no one is throwing punches, doesn’t mean that no one is getting hurt.