Unfortunately bullying is a fixture of your life if you’re a teen. Gone are the days of “bullying” meaning the big, mean kid stealing everyone’s lunch money. Today bullying has taken various shapes and forms, and has permeated the lives of kids and teens across the country. It’s a frightening trend that is affecting about half of all teenagers directly (via the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry), and most would argue that it probably affects ALL teenagers indirectly as they view it in the hallways, sidewalks, on the bus, or online. Ask any teenager in your life and they will tell you that it’s everywhere.
Male bullying tends to be physical and confrontational in nature, but for girls it is completely different. Most girl bullying happens behind the scenes, in non-obvious ways. Comments, looks, exclusion, jokes, and online bullying are more common. It can be hard to know if your daughter has experienced bullying, or bullies others herself. She has definitely seen it in the hallways of her school. But how is it affecting YOUR teen girl?
What Leads Girls to Be Targeted by Bullies
Girl bullying is multi-layered. It is sometimes invisible to the casual eye. Even teachers and parents who witness bullying right before their eyes are unable to identify it as such. Bullying could be happening in your daughter’s life. Look for signs that something may not be right at school or in one of their activity/sports groups, such as withdrawal, trying to get out of attending, loss of appetite, insomnia, or anything else that causes you concern. Another common indication that your daughter is being bullied is a sudden change in her friend groups. If she stops bringing her friends around or spends more time at home than usual she may be being bullied.
It’s often difficult for parents to understand why their daughter may be targeted by bullies. Here are a few of the characteristics that can lead girls to be targeted by a bully:
- Low self-esteem can make girls an easy target for bullies. Bullies usually pick on those victims whom they’re certain will not fight back.
- Poor body image, real or perceived, can provide powerful focus for bullies. If a girl is clearly unhappy with her physical appearance, bullies can easily identify their fear and use it against them.
- Lack of social skills or difficulty making friends. A girl struggling to fit in can make an easy target for bullies, who usually have their own friend group.
- Highly emotional or sensitive girls are often targeted because bullies get satisfaction from seeing distressed reactions. Girls who cry easily or lash out when hurt become targeted for bullies looking for reassurance of their power.
As parents, coaches, or teachers, there are things you can do to help girls avoid being targeted by bullies. Communication and awareness is the vital first step. Modeling self-esteem and social skills for your daughter will also help her to relate well with her peers and increase her own self-esteem. Finally a successful step will be to help her develop a positive body image.
What Leads Girls to Become Bullies
Surprisingly, some of the characteristics of bullies mirror those of the girls they bully. Girls who become bullies often have poor self-esteem or poor body image, and they mask it by bullying others. They use bullying to seem more popular or to attract attention from others. Usually bullies have problems at home – they might be bullied by their parents or siblings, or experience abuse, depression, or anger (via EduGuide). Bullies may be the smart and nice girls who have unseen problems. Quiet girls who don’t contribute to the bullying directly may be supporting bullies by standing nearby or allowing it to happen.
Any girl can become a bully, and it’s much harder to identify if your daughter IS a bully than if she is a TARGET for bullying. There are a few things you can look for, such as:
- insults about other girls
- sudden change of friends
- complaints from other parents or teachers
- spending secretive time online
- or sudden changes in mood
Most girl bullies will deny their bullying, so discovering and confronting their bullying problem can be challenging.
Like a bullying target, speaking with your daughter is key. This means going beyond your usual “How was school?” and “What did you do today?” Talk to her often about her friends and issues she has in school. Talk to her when she seems agitated or upset. Experts have found that being open and talking regularly (among other techniques) can strengthen the lines of communication. It can be hard to have conversations about your daughter’s body and self-image, but helping her develop a positive body image can decrease the urge to bully other girls out of insecurity. There are many approaches you can take to help your daughter cultivate a positive body image, so try a few to see what can work for your daughter.
When It’s Getting Out of Hand
Whether your daughter is a bully or a target for bullies, there are some circumstances in which your skill and love alone won’t be enough. If the bullying situation becomes problematic to the point that it is seriously affecting your daughter’s education and/or mental health, then you may want to consider seeking additional help. The effects of bullying (or becoming a bully) are dangerous:
- Headaches or ulcers
- Fluctuations in weight
- Eating disorders
- Emotional scarring
- Future relationship problems
- Academic issues and losses
- Violence or aggression
Bullying is not an issue that will be solved with hugs or ignoring the issue. When it increases to a life-altering problem then you will most likely need professional help. There are residential boarding schools which can not only remove your daughter from the toxic situation, but also provide her with the mental, physical, and emotional therapy she may need to undo the damage of a bullying situation. Through carefully designed individual and group treatment your daughter can build her self-esteem, develop a positive body image, and establish healthy social skills which will allow her to function successfully – and happily – in the world.