Bullying among girls is on the rise
School girls gossiping, back biting,...giving each other the silent treatment...we all recognise this as unpleasant behavior.
But is it turning into something more serious?
Parents and teachers have tended to dismiss it as childish and typical "girly" behaviour.
Now educators and counselors are urging us to re examine our responses.
Devika Misratells us why.
The traditional school bully used to be a scowling overweight boy.
He would grab somebody else's lunch or trip up a skinny classmate.
That image no longer holds true.
Today's school bully is likely to be pretty, popular, skinny , smiling....yes,... she is a girl.
Educators and counselors say that aggression among girls is on the rise.
Dr Carol Balhatchet is the Director for Youth services at Singapore's Children's Society.
"Bullying comes with girls and boys but lately its been more in girls. Girls are bolder, girls are now not talking it out, not communicating their issues where previously boys can't communicate their issues so they used aggression to resolve their problems now it appears girls are doing the same thing. With girls it now jealousy, they feel that their boyfriend is noticing the other girl and not noticing them then they resort to bullying."
Despite this, the problem among girls is going largely unchecked.
And that's because its a hard-to-define issue.
Traditionally gossiping, back biting and smear campaigns are not regarded as bullying.
A mistake says Rachel Simmons.
She is the author of Odd Girl Out:The Hidden culture of Aggression in Girls.
"If you look at bullying as something thats physical then, no you aren't going to see what girls are doing as hurtful but thats of course part of the problem because what we have done for many years is look at what girls do as a rite of passage or a developmental phase because it doesn't meet the traditional definition of bullying. Most girls are unlikely to push someone against a wall . Most understanding of bullying are very male focused and they focus on the physical aggression at the hand of someone you don't know very well. Actually bullying is much more than being physically hurt or even openly hurt, there are many other ways that this happens."
The ways in which this happens among girls, Ms Simmons says can be far more hurtful and have a longer-term impact.
It is also less easy to directly punish and control....it involves that tricky grey area...feelings.
"Girls are going to behave in ways that are inclined to destroy relationships, destroy social status and just generally speaking make ones social life miserable. The silent treatment is really very powerful so if I'm upset with you instead of telling you I'm just not going to speak to you anymore. Another example would be using the relationship as a weapon. A very common thing that happens between girls is lets say you're friends with two people who don't really like each other so one of those people says well its either her or me and thats a kind of blackmail, emotional blackmail so instead of hitting someone you are using your relationship as a weapon."
But surely this has been an age old problem.
Why is it being taken so seriously now?
Dr Balhatchet has the answer.
"Unlike previously now bullying can take a more sensational stand because of the easy access to the Internet and blogging and Facebook which has a mass reach so a lot of the bullying comes with saying nasty things or intimidation on their blogs or on the Net. The perpetrator is able to recruit a whole lot more support by going on the Net."
Since the impact of bullying is now much wider and can involve complete strangers being let into the personal problem of a victim its is regarded as more dangerous and far reaching than before.
Ms Simmons says the Internet is the new school bathroom wall but it's more all pervasive.
"The biggest different is technology. It used to be that kids went to school and then they went home and there was a pretty clear boundary between school and home you had your telephone to communicate but that was pretty much it. Now kids are on a twenty four hour news and gossip cycle that comes through their cell phones and computers, they're re hooked into each other in a pretty powerful way which both allows them to be connected but also gives them the tools to lash out at some of those connections when they are upset. So cyber bullying, the use of technology to humiliate or harass someone has really exploded as more and more technology has been put into the hands of younger people."
So what are the solutions?
Parents and teachers... wake up please says Ms Simmons.
This is more than just fickle behaviour.
For one.... put the brakes on technology.
Moms need to tell their daughters, "If you feel you cant say it to her face do NOT sms it to her or anyone else.
Parents need to take away the cell phone temporarily and tough out the hysterical tantrum that will inevitably follow.
Do not always believe that homework can't be done without the computer, it often can.
But the longer term solution is more difficult to enforce.
It involves a change of social norms and expectations.
Girls should not always be expected to be "nice" Ms Simmon says.
"The first countries to solicit translations of my book were Asian countries and I think theres not a coincidence there. I think traditional Asian families put a lot of pressure on daughters to behave in ways that might not be realistic; to be quieter than boys are expected to be, to be nicer than boys are expected to be so the more pressure we put on boys not to speak their minds and not to express their natural anger and upset in healthy ways the more we're going to see them take their feelings underground behind people's back and online."
Ms Simmons says even when women grow up to be more empathetic and less hurtful to others they often have problems expressing themselves directly in both their personal and professional relationships.
Dr Balhatchet agrees that the long term solution will not be a quick fix.
Raising awareness through what she calls emotional education of both girls as well as their parents and teachers, is the only thing that will work.
She says that Bullying is now being seen in younger children, it can begin as early as Primary two and at least three to four out of every ten have been impacted.
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