Girl Bullying: How Relational Aggression Affects Our Daughters
At one point or another, you may have experienced your daughter coming home from school feeling both confused and upset. It is not uncommon for a girl to experience a good friend who has suddenly decided to ignore her and talk behind her back. Sometimes those so-called friends will act nice to the victim but suddenly shift gears when around other peers. As a result, your daughter is the target of jokes made at her expense.
You decide not to overreact to the situation because it may seem like your daughter is being “too sensitive.” However, you suddenly realize that your daughter spends less time with friends and no longer wants to go to school. As a parent, you want to assist and even protect your daughter but perhaps you are unsure how best to proceed. It is especially difficult knowing how to proceed if there are no clear-cut threats to her safety. Instead, the threat is subtle.
This type of “emotional bullying” is known as relational aggression. Rather than relying on any form of physical violence, this form of bullying involves relationships, the core of what every girl wants and needs to feel safe and secure in her world.
Behaviors Common Among Emotional Bullies
Emotional bullying is when the bully uses relationships, words, and gestures to target the victim. Some common examples of relational aggression include:
- The silent treatment
- Spreading rumors about the victim
- Using social media sites, such as Snapchat, to post a humiliating post about the victim
- Asking other girls to make anonymous posts pertaining to hurtful thoughts about the victim – most often, the posts will include mean, hurtful statements about the victim
- Exclusion, which entails purposely not inviting the victim and ensuring that she knows she is not invited
- Making fun of the victim guised as humor – when confronted with the cruelty of the act, the bully will turn the tables on the victim by saying she is being “too sensitive” or that they were “just joking”
- Manipulation – if the victim does something the bully wants, the bully agrees they can be friends again, or included in group activities
- Being taunted, laughed at, or called names behind her back within earshot
If your daughter mentions any of the behaviors listed above, it is likely that she has become the target of relational aggression. Make sure to listen attentively to all her concerns so she knows that you are understanding of her needs and worries.
Signs Your Daughter is a Victim of Bullying
This form of bullying can have a devastating impact on the emotional well-being of a girl. Signs your child is being bullied include:
- Refusing to attend extra-curricular events, sports, and other activities previously enjoyed
- A significant drop in self-esteem (negative statements about themselves)
- Feeling socially inadequate
- Avoidance of school
If you notice any of the signs or symptoms mentioned, make sure to address them immediately. Addressing the signs and symptoms of bullying early on is the best options for your daughter’s peace of mind and emotional well-being.
Steps You Can Take to Help
So as a caring parent, what can you possibly do to help a girl navigate these minefields? Most importantly, listen to your daughter and validate her feelings and the things she is telling you. Never assume she is being too sensitive. Never make her feel like she has done something wrong or that she should apologize. Do not assume the bullying will eventually go away or get better of its own accord. Instead, bring it to attention and talk about it.
Your best bet is to bring the issue to the attention of teachers and administrators. It is important that they, too, understand what relational aggression is and how to confront it. This involves holding the aggressor accountable for their behavior and not showing any tolerance for it. Therapy can also be beneficial in helping the victim understand that it is not their fault. Therapy also allows the victim to find safe ways to assert themselves and receive the support needed.
Some resources for parents and girls in understanding relational aggression and getting help include:
The Odd Girl Out, the Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Simmons, Rachel
Queenbees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and other Realities of Adolescence, Wiseman, Rosalind
The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, Coloroso, Barbara
Monica Ramunda, MA, LPC, RPT received additional training and was a group facilitator for the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel Simmons. She is the Facilitator of a Girls Empowerment Group at her Louisville office, for school age children.