Bullying used to be confined to schools. Not anymore. Today, bullying is evidenced in every segment of society in every possible venue from professional sports events to buses.
Relational bullying is escalating at a rapid rate throughout the country. This is bullying that transpires within female friendships. It starts very young, as early as second and third grade, and can have profoundly negative long-term consequences such as eating disorders.
Unlike traditional bullying, this form of interaction is not physical; it’s verbal. It is covert, passive-aggressive and insidious. This bullying comes in the form of gossip, secret-telling, or lies about another.
Often it is executed under the guise of friendship. One young girl might tell another in whispered tones: “Because I am your best friend I am going to tell you the truth. All the other kids think you are stupid and fat.” Why would this girl say this? Because it makes her feel better about herself to put another person down.
What is so profoundly sad about this scenario is that a girl of eight or 10 years old does not have the intellectual or emotional maturity to understand what is truly transpiring. She might believe she is stupid and fat; after all, why would her best friend lie to her? In turn, her self-esteem plummets and her self-identity takes an enormous hit.
This type of cruelty can go on for years because the one on the receiving end of the bullying would rather remain in the friendship and be hurt, then leave and be alone.
This is because the fear of having no friends or existing as an outcast is worse than anything she can imagine. For a young girl, the thought of being ostracized by the group is completely terrifying.
Other forms of relational bullying may include but are not limited to the following:
- Taunting and Insults
- Conditional Friendship Terms
- The Silent Treatment
- Indirect Attacks with Gossip
- Consequences of Bullying
The emotional pain from relational bullying can continue, and undoubtedly, intensify. This young girl’s feelings of inadequacy, shame, guilt, and sadness can lead to depression and anxiety.
If she does not possess healthy coping skills yet or a positive support system at home, this can eventually result in an eating disorder, often accompanied by self-harming behavior. It hurts. Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder can provide an escape from the emotional pain.
Proactive Action to Combat Bullying
It is estimated that the vast majority of children are bullied, and according to the latest 2017 survey, 54% of all respondents said that they have been bullied at some point in their lives. that’s every other child!
Number one motive for bullying was attitude towards victim’s appearance – 50% of all bullying motives. 40% were attitudes towards interest and hobbies, followed by attitudes towards high grades, household income, low grades, family issues, disabilities, race, cultural identity, religion, sexuality and gender identity.
The most common type of bullying is reported to be verbal bullying, followed by physical, cyber and social.
So how can we protect our daughters?
By being a Role Model. If we want our daughters to be strong, genuine, assertive, and non-passive-aggressive in relationships, we can strive to model that behavior in our own lives. Living the example is the best step any of us can take to positively influence our children.
Encourage Social Diversity. It is healthy for girls to have more than one peer group with whom to interact. In addition to friends at school, she may become involved with extracurricular activities in the area of sports, social clubs or church. This means her identity and self-concept won’t be defined or shaped by only one group. This is especially important if one group turns on her for any reason. She won’t feel so alone, she’ll know she has other friends in her life.
Encourage Insight. If a child is experiencing relational bullying, we can talk about the “whys” of such behaviour. We can help her understand what might be behind a “friend” behaving in such a fashion. Help her to see that it is not about her, what she has done and most importantly not about who she is; instead, it is all about the “friend” and what she may be lacking in her own life, such as love and support (in most cases).
Communicate and Show Support. Let your children know that you are always there to listen and support them. All things are “speakable,” meaning no topic is off limits. Remember that when thoughts and feelings are not brought out into the light of day, and they remain in the dark, they will only grow, distort and fester. So encourage open conversation.
Adopt the policy of “if you see something, say something.” By doing nothing, you actually lend support to the bully. By reducing the incidence of bullying throughout our culture, perhaps we in the behavioral health field will experience a reduction in the number of girls and women who come to us for treatment with emotional wounds and trauma dating back to early childhood bullying.