Melissa Pasquinelli LCPC, NCC
Almost all girls experience some kind of bullying in their life, whether they were bullied or were the bully. I know that I have been the bully and the victim. My experience was very traumatic at the time. One of my best friends had written me a note. It was very common for my friends and I to pass notes all day at school. Not even aware of her true feelings, I happily opened it assuming the content would be what she was doing this weekend or what boy she liked this week. Unfortunately, it was a letter stating that she did not want to be my friend anymore. However, it wasn’t only her signature it was about five of my friends. A petition telling me that I wasn’t good enough to be their friend anymore. There was no reason why. I rushed away in tears and went to the counselor’s office. Ironically I ran into a peer that I had previously bullied with the girls that had bullied me. She provided me with open arms and I was grateful for her acceptance. I will never forget her acceptance and forgiveness.
So why do teenage girls bully? Usually it’s more about the bully rather than the victim. Bullies are attempting to improve their self-worth by using others as a way to project their feelings. These feelings could be anger, sadness, or even fear. It also can be about social status, need for attention, or even jealousy. The approach girls use to bullying is called relational aggression. It’s much different than boys. Boys will tease and use physical aggression. Although some girls will use violence too; relational aggression is more common and more difficult to detect. It can range from spreading rumors, ostracizing, threats, silent treatment, defending someone for no reason, whispering in front of the person, and gossip (Leff, Waasdorp, Crick, 2010). They will likely involve their peers to gain more power in the situation. Boys will get over it quicker and can move on from it. Girls spend time planning and plotting how to hurt their victim. The emotional damage is much greater which makes it harder for the peers to amend their conflict. Girls who are being bullied likely will experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. Which means as parents we have to be proactive.
How can we help our teen?
Education is key, having conversations with your teen about what is bullying and how to detect it. Share your story, most parents have some type of bullying story, this will validate that they are not alone.
Emotional intelligence is important for every teen. Being connected to their feelings will allow validation, which will usually help the emotion be less overwhelming for the teen. Alternative ways to express yourself. Allow them to express their feelings through writing. This will allow your teen to not internalize their feelings if it is difficult for them to express them verbally. Give your teen a journal to encourage them to write freely about how they feel. Resources: Encourage your teen to utilize their school counselor, group counseling or a private counselor. Having someone to discuss their experiences and ways to manage this type of stress. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons discussed the girl’s development and the relational aggression culture that is hard for adults to detect. This book allows us to identify what relational aggression is and how we can instill confidence in our teen girls.
Model appropriate behaviors when dealing with conflict. Our children are always watching and learning from us. Instilling confidence in our teens can be challenging however, it is vital, so help them through this by modeling self-esteem.
My experience is a perfect example of relational aggression. After that experience, I was very careful not be involved in bullying and treated my peers with respect. I never wanted to inflict pain on someone like those friends had done on that day. Looking back now I realize that I was better off without those friends. I was able to move on and established relationships that were healthy and accepted me for who I am.
Leff, Stephen S, Waasdorp, Tracy Evian, Crick R. Nikki. A Review of Existing Relational Aggression Program: Strengths, Limitations, & Future direction. School Psych Rev. 2010. 39 (4). Simmons, Rachel. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Harcourt, Incorporated. New York 2002.