Gender Differences in Bullying
Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all bullying involves a person or a group repeatedly trying to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable. It can involve physical aggression (hitting, pushing, or damaging belongings), verbal attacks (threatening or intimidating, maliciously teasing and taunting, name-calling, or making sexual remarks) or more subtle, indirect attacks (spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject or exclude someone). Almost 30 percent of teens in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying – either as a bully, a target of bullying, or both. Bullying can start at any age and can continue through high school.
There are significant differences in how boys bully versus how girls bully. Boys tend to be physically aggressive when bullying. Girls tend to bully other girls indirectly through the peer group. When boys engage in bullying behavior, they tend to bully both boys and girls equally, while girls tend to bully mostly girls.
Boy bullies are usually easy to identify. You can certainly catch a bully punching or kicking a victim. You can recognize when a boy is threatening or intimidating someone else.
Because girls use indirect methods of bullying, it can be hard to recognize and even more difficult to catch. Girls bully in groups or packs by using emotional violence. Girl bullies often use their popularity to encourage other teens not to be friends with the victim. A popular girl bully will expect and require that the other girls in her group back her up in bullying a less popular girl. The bully holds the threat of exclusion over the other girls in her group; they fear that if they don’t comply and carry out the bully’s punishment, they risk the same (or worse) punishment. In order to prevent that from happening, even normally nice girls will behave in cold, cruel ways. The other girls will actually admit that they are glad that someone else is being targeted, because as long as another girl is being bullied, they are safe.
Typical Girl Bully Tactics:
- Becoming friends with the intended victim to gain access to information about them that can later be used to hurt them.
- Encouraging others to not be friends with the victim.
- Picking on, or making jokes about, the victim.
- Encouraging others to ignore the victim.
- Breaking up any friendships the victim attempts to form.
- Deliberately working to exclude the victim from any social connections.
- Spreading rumors.
- Framing the victim for something they didn’t do (e.g. the bully steals an item and plants it in the victim’s backpack or desk and then arranges for the item to be discovered by the teacher).
- Gossiping about the child or the child’s friends or family.
- Planning and carrying out elaborate schemes to humiliate, embarrass, and/or isolate the victim.
- Making anonymous prank phone calls or harassing emails from dummy accounts.
- Posting embarrassing photos or information about the victim on websites or social media.
- Whispering in front of other kids with the intent to make the victim feel left out.
When boys use physical violence to bully their victim, adults are quick to understand the situation, identify the problem, and intervene. Unfortunately, all too often the bullying tactics used by girls are brushed off as cruel, but normal social interactions. Although it’s a fact of life that not everyone can be friends, adults cannot simply accept social hierarchies as an unfortunate part of the normal formation of peer groups. While it is normal for teens to form social groups and close bonds with certain people at the exclusion of others it becomes bullying when those groups make power plays over other groups or individuals. When groups are causing fear, manipulating and intimidating people, or making others feel that they are inferior, bullying has reared its ugly head. Do not look the other way! Adults must intervene to stop this behavior, just as quickly as physical violence.
How Parents Can Help
Create a problem-solver. In a study released in 2010, researchers discovered that children and adolescents who lack social problem-solving skills are more at risk of becoming bullies, victims or both than those who don’t have these difficulties with solving their own problems. Developing positive problem-solving skills seems to be a crucial part of avoiding bullying. Unfortunately, we are not born with these skills, nor are they taught in schools. Youth must rely on the adults around them – parents, teachers, coaches, etc. – to teach them how to solve their problems. You can read our blog “Teaching Problem Solving Skills” to find out how to teach this valuable skill to your child.
Communicate. Even if your child has had no experience with bullying – as victim or perpetrator – do not assume that all will continue to be well. Parents must take the time to talk to their children about their social lives. The most important thing you can do is talk to your teen. Be sure to listen more than talk. Validate her feelings, even if you don’t agree with them. Try to understand what she thinks about the things that are happening around her. Express interest in her friends. Encourage communication in any way you can – teens seem more open to conversations in the car or while doing some other activity together. When you have a conversation with your teen about bullying, be sure to define bullying as anything a group or individual does to hurt another person. Youth may understand that name calling is bullying, but believe that gossiping is ok. Teens may recognize that hitting someone is bullying, but think that tripping someone is just a joke. Along with explaining the definition of bullying, we should clearly define the consequences of those actions. Encourage their empathy by talking through how a bullying victim feels and how it may impact their life. Discuss the possible ramifications of getting in trouble for bullying, including school suspension.
Role Model. Youth look up to the adults in their lives, and they look for cues as to how to behave in certain situations. Make sure you are being a good role model to the teens in your life by doing the following things:
- Behave ethically — Hold yourself to a high moral standard.
- Be assertive in a healthy way – Stand up for yourself, when necessary, but without becoming hurtful to anyone else. Stay respectful in your interactions with others, even when they are being disrespectful.
- Take responsibility for your actions — When you make a mistake, admit it. Accept the consequences of your error and work to make it right.
- Keep a positive attitude — The power of positive thinking can improve any situation.
- Model a healthy, balanced lifestyle — Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and learn constructive methods for relieving stress.
- Serve others — Volunteer to help those less fortunate.
- Value education — Continue to learn and grow.
- Be tolerant – Do not put down others. Try to find value in every person.
- Be reliable and trustworthy — Make sure your teen knows they can count on you.
- Value friendships — Enjoy, support, and cherish your family and friends.
If at any time you suspect that your teen might be bullying someone or is being bullied, please seek professional assistance right away. Your school’s guidance counselor is an excellent first step.
There are many reasons why individuals choose not to intervene. They may be relieved that the victim of a normal and generally-present danger is someone else, they may take vicarious satisfaction in the bullying, or they may worry that they risk becoming the next victim through intervention. An intuitive understanding that others will be similarly unwilling to assist them if they do become the next victim likely strengthens the motivation to remain passive.
My son just finished fourth grade and this year he had to deal with some bullying from a few students in his class. I teach at his school and so was able to deal with it when it happened. I talked to the teacher and she talked to the student in question and it stopped. Later in the year some girls in his class, (I call them the ‘mean girls’) decided to make him their target. I talked with him about it and told him to ignore them and not let them see that what they said bothered him, but they continued and it escalated. When he came to me and told me they were talking about ‘Connor germs’ and wiping their hands with hand sanitizer when he accidently bumped them, I saw red and went straight to the principal because he had talked to the teacher and she wasn’t taking care of it. The girls in question were called to the office and dealt with and they stopped. My son is labeled ‘highly gifted’ in academics and his mind just works on a different level from a lot of kids. His vocabulary is extensive and he’s known as the ‘smartest kid’ in class. I think that some bullies key on that type of child. He also isn’t very athletic so that becomes a focus for their bullying. He’s also a minority in a predominantly hispanic school which makes him different as well. As a parent, I turn into momma bear when I see it and I do NOT tolerate it. Because I teach at his school I have connections so that it isn’t let slide, but I encourage all parents to make noise! If your child is being bullied go to your school and do NOT take ‘they’re just being kids’ as an answer. Bullying is in the news and a hot topic right now. Don’t let your school get away with tolerating it. My fear is more for what will happen in middle school because I know that bullying escalates and I won’t be there to protect my son.
Too many kids have been bullied and not helped… it’s just wrong. Why isn’t anybody stopping it?