Have you noticed your preteen or teenage daughter acting nervous, withdrawn or irritable since they returned to in-person classes at school? Bullying, or the fear of bullying, could be to blame.
Bullying can be traumatizing, whether it is physical, emotional, relational or cyber. It extends beyond playful teasing, which is often unintentional, to deliberate harm persisting over a long period.
“Bullying is prevalent across genders, though boys tend to exhibit physical bullying while girls commonly use more covert or manipulative methods known as relational bullying,” explains Dr. Jennifer Wojciechowski, PhD, a psychologist affiliated with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “This type of bullying attempts to make others feel unaccepted by damaging a child’s rapport with her peers.”
How girls bully one another
Common examples of relational bullying among girls include:
- Spreading nasty rumors
- Exposing confidential information
- Social exclusion
- Silent treatment
- Verbal criticism
“Though relational and verbal attacks — such as gossiping, spreading rumors and intimidation — do not inflict physical wounds, the effects are equally traumatizing for many children,” cautions Dr. Wojciechowski. “Girls who are bullied may experience social anxiety, loneliness, depression and diminished self-esteem, and may exhibit acting-out behaviors.”
Childhood bullying can also impact relationships later in life, she says. Such negative early experiences can make it difficult for women to trust other women.
Why girls bully
Typically, bullies target victims because they are “different” in some way — they are picked on because of their weight, height, disabilities, etc. However, relational bullying focuses less on physical characteristics and arises mainly from an unresolved conflict that is not directly addressed.
Reasons a girl bullies another girl can range from boredom or desire for attention to jealousy and revenge for a perceived wrong. And with the recent upheavals in teens’ lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns, bullying behavior and reactions to bullying may only increase as students are brought together on school campuses.
How parents can help
Dr. Wojciechowski reports that parents often feel helpless and are unsure about the best action to take against bullying. The best thing to do is to offer support, empathy and a listening ear, she says. Parents can encourage their daughters to express their feelings in a healthy manner and model appropriate communication.
“It is important to stress to your child that bullying is wrong and that your child isn’t inviting the bullying in some way,” says Dr. Wojciechowski. “It’s also helpful for parents to address the issue with your child’s school rather than taking matters into your own hands, no matter how tempting that may be.”
What girls can do
So, what should teens do if they are being bullied? Try the following tips: • Speak out against the bullying • Stick up for themselves • Ignore the bully completely • Act as though the teasing isn’t making an impact • Share their concerns with a trusted adult so they can help put a stop to it
“Bullying isn’t a new problem, but it appears to be escalating in our communities,” says Dr. Wojciechowski. “The popularity of social media and other electronic forms of bullying bring the bullying into the home, offering no refuge once school ends.”
According to Dr. Wojciechowski, it is vital that bullying — why it’s done, what it looks like and how to stop it — needs to be addressed at home, in schools, and in the various clubs, teams and organizations where girls spend their time.