“Girls can be nasty,” says Jan Fry, deputy chief executive of Parentline Plus. “They are so much more articulate than boys and use verbal bullying, rather than physical. This can lead to huge drops in self-confidence.”
It’s certainly true that girls tend to bully differently from boys. To put it simply, they use different “weapons”, often more psychological than openly aggressive.
“All the evidence tends to suggest that boys both experience bullying, and bully, in a more physical way,” says Nathalie Noret, a lecturer in developmental psychology at York St John’s University College. “Boys hit and kick more. Girls tend to use more indirect and emotional aggression. They leave each other out when they’re playing, send nasty messages or write nasty graffiti.”
There are a number of theories explaining just why girls bully in this way. One is that, from an early age, girls are encouraged to be emotional rather than physical. Another possibility is that, as many parents know, girls are often more articulate than boys, and so choose to be nasty with words rather than fists. Another maybe that verbal bullying is simply not as identifiable as physical.
“Being left out and spreading rumours about someone could be put down to “falling out” with friends,” says Nathalie Noret, who has carried out extensive research into bullying. “But that’s how bullying starts, and it can become much worse.”
The impact of new technology
Yes, the Internet can be great, as can text messaging and social networking groups. Unfortunately, they can also be used negatively, as many young women have found.
“It’s as if these new communication tools were made for girls,” says Jan Fry. “Social networking sites are hauling girls into virtual gangs – from where they can exclude others – while mobile phones and instant messaging are also new ways to bully.”
Cyber-bullying (bullying by media and communication devices) is certainly on the increase – and girls are at the forefront. Recent research by Nathalie Noret and her colleague, Professor Ian Rivers, found that when it came to girls, bullying by mobile phones had increased each year since 2002 (with boys, the pattern was less clear).
“They’re sending nasty, offensive or even threatening messages with their phones,” she says. “Teachers and parents need to realise that a child’s mobile phone or computer isn’t just a communication stool – it’s also a way for a bully to reach a child in their own home”
What can be done? How you can help…
Build up your child’s self-confidence: Praise her and let her know you love her. She may withdraw into herself, but she still needs to know she’s valued.
Don’t be scared to complain: Speak to teachers (every school has to have an anti-bullying policy, so they should help you) or even your GP. Long-term bullying can lead to depression and anxiety, and you need to be aware of this, particularly if your daughter seems very low. Bullying by girls can be difficult to recognise, so be alert to changes in your daughter’s behaviour.
Engage with your child: She may know more than you when it comes to the Internet, but you can still show an interest.
Try and understand what she’s doing: Ask what social networking groups she belongs to, and basically make it obvious you’re there if needed. Let her know that some of the social networking sites do allow you to block unwelcome visitors.
Don’t over-react: Don’t ban her from the computer or take away her phone. Just warn her of the risks.
Get in touch with her mobile phone service provider: Most have numbers to report offensive messages on.
Think about what she needs: Does she really need a computer in her room?
Don’t condone revenge: It’s not worth it.
“What really worries me is that we talk to parents who are still experiencing long-term negative effects from the bullying that happened to them,” says Jan Fry. “A lot of girl bullying is about body image and being different – too short, too fat or wearing the wrong clothes.
Girls latch onto things and it’s vital to try and teach your daughter to be proud of who she is. You need to let her know that she will get through it.