Bullying in the girl’s world

10 action steps in the struggle against girl bullying

03/21/2011  |  DIANE S. SENN

Relational or social agression in girls can start at a very young age and can be quite different from the typical bullying of boys. Girls can devise and direct complex social/emotional games that victimize others through exclusion or isolation, rumors, gossip, eye-rolling, putting friends against one another, sarcasm, and revealing and altering personal secrets. The social, emotional hurt that girls can often do can hurt as much, if not more, than physical bullying. This type of bullying has often been referred to as the “darker side of sisterhood.” You may have heard such statements as....

“If you hang out with her, we are so not friends anymore.”

“Don’t let her sit at our table.”

“Hey, check out what Cheryl put on the Web site about Allison – it’s a riot!”

“Your outfit’s ugly – just kidding.”

Eye rolls, back turns, whispers, angry text messages, jealousy about boys, intentional rumor spreading for revenge and the list goes on. Without effective prevention and intervention, this aggression can lead to academic and social withdrawal, depression, substance abuse, risky business and future dysfunctional relationships. Instead of taking the passive stance of “that’s just the way it is ... that’s how girls act ... if I can’t see it or prove it then I can’t get involved ...” we have to take an aggressive approach to prevent this damaging social aggression and to intervene. We need to send the message that this is not okay in our society.

Girl bullying/relational aggression is a complex problem that will take a complex answer but one that needs to be addressed in the educational environment.

Where do we start? The following 10 action steps outline 10 areas of focus in the struggle against girl bullying:

Promote Awareness

Promote awareness with students, faculty, and parents. Define and give examples as to what girl bullying is; the roles and dynamics of the aggressor, the victim, and the bystander (girl in the middle); and the damage it can do. Address this issue through faculty in-service, school-wide programs, class lessons, small groups, with individuals, and through parent workshops. Only when people are aware of, and can identify it as a problem, can they oppose it and change.


Assess to get the real picture. Relational aggression in girl bullying is covert and hidden and not something that you can see and hear as you would a physical altercation. Therefore, assess through formal and informal strategies. You may be surprised to find out what may be going on, even with our young elementary students, or with what we thought were our sweet and nice girls.

Review the Environment

Review the environment to be aware of the messages of society from the media, cultural influences, our school environment — what are the subtle messages being sent by our school and the family? Media is powerful for our young people and some messages in our media seem to glamorize relational aggression and make the “bad” girl look “good.”

Use Positive Role Models

Highlight positive role models from the media, school environment, family and the community.

Teach Empathy

Teach empathy and other character traits that are valued by our society.

Build Skills

Build skills of what to do to help when you realize you are the aggressor, target/victim, or bystander. Typically girls will go in and out of all three of these roles, therefore it is important to know skills and strategies to help in each of these roles. Don’t forget to emphasize the significance of how the bystander can be of help. Social aggression only flourishes when it is accepted and promoted by the social group.

Challenge Unhealthy Beliefs

Challenge unhealthy beliefs, asking such questions as, “Is it okay to talk bad about someone? Is it okay to make fun of someone or laugh at them? Is it okay to do nothing and watch as someone gets excluded or made fun of?” Ask, “What do you think you will think/feel about your behavior in 10 years?”

Positive Expectations

Maintain positive expectations with accountability. Hold students accountable for behavior, including restitution — fix what you did wrong; and resolution — come up with a plan so it doesn’t happen again; and reconciliation — find a way to heal the hurt.

Focus on Personal Strengths

Focus on personal strengths, helping each person value their individuality and strengths.

Redirect the victim toward people and activities that are socially and emotionally healthy.

Our hope for our young girls is to feel empowered, self-confident showing respect for themselves and for others. By implementing the 10 action steps we can, and will, make a positive difference in the struggle against girl bullying.

Diane Senn is the author of Bullying in the Girl’s World available through www.youthlight.com.
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