Girls Bullying Girls – A Worsening Problem

Speaking as an elementary educator of 20 years, many parents just don’t realize (or believe) what their girls are having to put up with at school every day from other girls.  The American TV show Mean Girls has had a huge influence on even elementary girls’ behavior as low as Grade 1.  Aside from seeing examples of this behavior on television, this bullying behavior has now become pervasive at all age groups in elementary school.

What is driving this behavior?  In a word, it’s jealousy; sometimes extreme jealousy.  Girls are jealous for many reasons.  Some common examples are who wears “better” clothes (meaning more fashionable and with the right labels which everyone knows are expensive); who has the most expensive personal computers, Blackberries or telepones, and other gadgets; who takes the best vacations; who has the most fun parties; but mostly, in more than fifty percent of cases, it has to do with boysAnd yes, this is happening as young as KINDERGARTEN with some children.  It’s common in Grade 1; prevalent in Grades 2 and 3; and rampant  by Grade 4 and after.

Many parents don’t want to believe it, or else believe it can be “discouraged.”  In some cases, a parent can influence their own child to try not to get involved in this, but others around the child will be involved.

Here is a typical example.  In one third-grade class I know of, one girl named Sarah (names changed)  likes about three boys, but likes one in particular named Tom.  Tom is in love with Mary, and Mary loves Tom also (and yes, the children DO use the word love and DO have strong feelings).  Meanwhile, Tom is friendly with another girl in the class named Doreen.  He talks to Doreen and a couple of other girls in the class, but only as a friend.  Tom cannot stand Sarah.  Sarah is not pretty, but the reason Tom can’t stand her is because she is NOT nice.  Sarah gossips constantly behind many people’s backs and about multiple people to multiple people.  Sarah calls Tom all the time on his cell phone, but Tom doesn’t answer it when she calls (sometimes ten times a day).  Sarah is insanely jealous of Doreen because Tom talks to Doreen, but not to her.  Sarah pretends to be Doreen’s friend (their mothers are also good friends) but in reality does everything she can to sabotage Doreen, because she hates her.  She’s also mean to Mary and every other girl Tom speaks with.

Doreen can’t talk to her mother about these problems because when she tries, her mother doesn’t believe it, and doesn’t believe that Sarah is not a nice girl.  Doreen talks to me because I know the children well from having taught them another year, and I know their personalities.  Doreen is often in tears about these problems and I do my best to listen and make suggestions to her for how to stand up to these girls.  Doreen tried talking to another teacher, but the teacher didn’t want to be involved.  All of the above is just one situation in the class.  There are about ten similar situations all going on in the same class.  And this is repeated in every class throughout many schools everywhere.

This sort of problem is far worse than it used to be.  There were always little romances going on between children even when I was a child.  Any parent who doesn’t admit this either doesn’t remember what it was like to be a child, or is just nervous and upset by the thought of it, and just trying to “sweep it under the rug.”

Today’s problems, however, are more serious than ten or fifteen years ago, and I sincerely believe that the television program Mean Girls has had something to do with it.  I believe every parent and every teacher who has not seen the show needs to watch at least a few episodes on line (maybe six episodes or one season) to understand the behavior which is now going on in schools.  Even if your own child or your child’s friends have not seen this program, enough other children have seen it that it has changed their behavior for the worse compared to a half-generation ago.  In the past, this went by such names as “puppy love” and most children had positive roll models for their behavior on television (think Leave It to Beaver, or Father Knows Best).  Now, most of the role models children see on televison or from older children’s behavior is extremely negative.

Some girls are actually pushed into being bullies by their own parents’ behavior, particularly their mothers’ behavior.  Some girls are actually copying their mother’s behavior.  I know one girl in Grade 2 who often would announce loudly about any girl she didn’t like, “Oh, look!  She eats a LOT!”  This is a very appearance-conscious girl whose mother is just the same.  Their way of making themselves feel better is to step on those who they don’t like by loudly making this sort of comment.

Another Grade 4  girl’s mother constantly tells her, “You are SO much prettier than all of the other girls, and you dress more stylishly, etc.”  This is not said in just the normal way that any mother would be proud of her daughter and say how she is a beautiful girl, but in a way which compares her to the others and puts her above them–in other words, this particular mother has spent years attempting to create a superiority complex in her daughter, and this is why her daughter comes to school and constantly tells the girls she doesn’t like as they walk by, “Oh, there’s a bad smell!”  and waves her hands at her nose.  She constantly tells the other girls that their clothes aren’t as nice or as expensive as hers.  Yet she is popular with the boys because she smiles a lot and flirts with them all day long (and has been since at least Grade 2).

Sometimes the girls do really mean things to others.  On the playground, sometimes they run after another girl they don’t like, and pull up her skirt, then shout to the boys, “Look! Look! Her skirt is up!” leaving the girl in tears.

If it’s not one thing they are doing to pick on the girls they don’t like, it’s another.  Of course they are experts at doing these things when there are no teachers around to see (in the restroom, on the playground, in the line, or by taking the long way back to their seat and bypassing the person they want to torment).

This blog post only touches on this large and complicated subject.  Parents, if you want your child to talk to you about these problems, you have to be willing to listen and believe your children.  Don’t make light of their problems any more than you would make light of a friend’s problems who told you something similar was happening to them at work.  Sadly, many adults (even many teachers) and parents just don’t want to believe that young children have many of the same emotions and problems that teenagers do.  Because of this, many children in need of help and guidance are left to suffer these torments completely on their own.  Most elementary schools have no guidance counselors.  Most teachers don’t have time.  Most parents don’t believe it is really happening.

–Lynne Diligent

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9 Responses to “Girls Bullying Girls – A Worsening Problem”

  1. Bruce Stewart Says:

    Unfortunately, our societies are now encouraging this sort of behaviour. The balance that used to allow for both a constructive individualism conjoined to a constructive sense of social order has been broken and the more we try to force a destructive, limiting group-sense on people (for any reason) we also create a destructive individualism to go with it.

  2. Jim Taggart Says:

    One wonders just how far this problem will descend. I recall when my three daughters (now 21, 26 and 31) were little and the arguments and petty tiffs they and their friends got into. But that pales in comparison to the problems young girls face, as described in this post. The “sexualization” of not just elementary but pre-school girls in North America is being driven by the media, with parents fighting a losing battle. Where will it end?

  3. Paul Garrigan Says:

    I’ve seen young children exhibit these strong emotions, and it can account for a lot of problems going on school. In the past I’ve dismissed the crushes that kids develop for other kids as a bit trivial, but it is so important to them. I think most of us have a romantic idea about childhood being carefree, but this is rarely the case it seems.

  4. Patricia Says:

    I believe that there are a great many issues that impact this bullying at school. Teachers are one of the lowest paid professions for university graduates – all over the world. Materialistic values of the parents are shameful. My grandsons, ages 6 and 8 were invited to a birthday party for a 3 year old neighbor and his parents presented the parents of the invitees a three page list of toys that he wanted – a registry of toys from Toys’R Us none of which were under $30.00. The list also provided the bar coding number and the aisle number in the store where each toy could be found.

    When I am back in USA, I am shocked at the “situation comedies” that are on TV all hours of the day and the language and situations that are depicted as if that is how everyone is living and behaving.

    We are now living in a world of competition instead of cooperation. Plastic surgery is now a routine option for young people. Women’s liberation wanted women to be equal to men and we have managed to become equal in many areas: diseases, crimes committed, and now bullying. Where do we start to correct this “misdirection?”

    Is it not enough to complain or bring some shameful behavior to light – we must also take the time to come up with concrete ideas to turn these situations around. The futures of our children and grandchildren are at stake!

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Patricia, I think you have hit the exact issue right on the head, better than I did, about the point I was trying to make. “We are now living in a world of competition instead of cooperation.” That’s exactly the problem. What ever happened to people trying to HELP each other? What ever happened to people trying to to be KIND to one another? Could this be a result of too MUCH laissaiz-faire capitalism? Or is it just too much television designed for shocking entertainment value in sitcoms, and kids growing up with sitcoms as “role models” instead of inspiring role models? I wish I knew what to do about it. I spent a lot of time and effort as a teacher talking with kids about all of these things and encourging positive behavior, but can one person fight the whole society? I hope my actions will bear fruit at some future time. –Lynne Diligent

  5. Mike Lehr Says:

    Very good post, Lynne. I never considered this to be so severe, but I also believe it’s only a prelude to adult behavior in more “mature” forms. I sometimes wonder if women are their own worst enemy in the workplace. It seems that this jealousy begins very early.

    I’m not sure we can blame this on anything but parenting. Yes, media, culture, education system, etc. play roles; but there is no stopping the widespread access to information. While this can encourage the overthrow of dictators, it can also have self-destructive effects too.

    Sometimes in the name of protecting their children from such bullying, parents need to be a relentless thorn in the side of educators.

    Again, good, thought provoking post.

  6. Brian Rude Says:

    I am bothered by this “competition instead of cooperation” idea. I think a better perspective is that both are important. Sometimes a situation requires that we be cooperative and lay aside our individual wants and needs in favor of the group. But other times a situation requires that that we protect our individual prerogatives. Sometimes the choice is easy and obvious. Sometimes the choice is very painful. Sometimes a carefully nuanced balance is required.

    I would think that if a child is admonished to always be cooperative, that will cause trouble. Sticking up for your rights can sometimes be interpreted as selfish. But sometimes children need to do exactly that.

    I think learning to skillfully handle the interplay between cooperation and competition is one of the more important parts of growing up.

    There is a situation that needs a name. that situation is when a group brings subtle, but sometimes strong, social pressure on a member to conform in some way. This can be toxic especially when the required conformity is not explicitly defined, but must be deduced intuitive by the group members. I wonder if girls are especially vulnerable to this situation.

    Is anyone familiar with the author Deborah Tannen? She has several very good books that talk at least a little about the psychological differences between boys and girls. I don’t have those books at hand at the moment, but will try to find them.

    And I have an article on my website, Let’s Do It Together” at http://www.brianrude.com/let's-do.htm that develop’s some ideas along this line.

    Brian, you really summarized in three words what is also bothering me about this situation, “competition vs. cooperation.” I also liked your idea of “skillfully handle the interplay between cooperation and competition. –Lynne Diligent

  7. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Does “girls bullying girls” translate into the workplace? It appears so from this article in the British Daily Mail:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1376300/Women-great-bosses–long-youre-man.html?ITO=1490

    Women are great bosses – as long as you’re a man

    By Nigel Smith
    Last updated at 9:52 AM on 13th April 2011

    For men, mistakes at work aren’t such a big deal — providing your boss is female.

    With women in charge, I’ve had more foul-ups forgiven, more days off ignored and more dodgy haircuts overlooked than I care to recall.

    And I’ve generally been treated like a naughty, but favoured son.

    From my editors in my early years as a green trainee journalist on local newspapers, to my TV script editors, agents, producers and even the odd celebrity, my working career has almost always been enhanced by having a woman above me showing me the ropes.

    For years, I just thought women were nicer to work for than men.

    Well, they are — unless, of course, you have ovaries, too.

    That’s when so-called ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome kicks in and, when it does, those of you of the fairer sex are in for one heck of a bumpy ride.

    Now, new research confirms what every working woman has always known: that female bosses are rarely, if ever, likely to give another woman a helping hand up the career ladder.

    Moreover, the report by Social Science Research says Queen Bee syndrome often means women are more likely to kick the ladder out from under another woman than they would from a man.

    I struck it lucky from the start.

    When I was a trainee hack on the world-famous Dagenham Post (you must know it, it’s above a Safeway store, just off the High Street) my knowledge was scarce, but the female news editor took me under her wing.

    She escorted me to my first court cases, introduced me to the local coppers, nudged me awake through endless boring council meetings and taught me how every story can be told in 25-word paragraphs. (Reading this one, I owe her an apology).

    However, she was very different with the girls.

    Not a bully or unpleasant, just not as helpful.

    I didn’t think too much about it at the time; I just put it down to me being cute. Now I realise she was probably suffering from Queen Bee syndrome.

    Neither she — nor the other females in the office — could seemingly bear to see other women getting on.

    One girl who got on to local radio news, a big, glamorous step up from the local paper, quickly became persona non grata among her former workmates in a way that successful male colleagues did not.

    By contrast, a bloke doing well was a friend to be proud of.

    One close female friend has even told me she has found it easier to deal with temperamental rock stars than with an office full of women.

    Susan spent more than 20 years in the U.S. working with some of the biggest rock bands in the world, from Kiss to the Moody Blues.

    But she says handling male superstar egos was a piece of cake compared to dealing with the women she encountered in her first office job.

    ‘That office was so bitchy and back-biting, I just had to leave,’ she says.

    ‘My boss was a woman who was scared I was going after her job. She refused to give me the training I needed.

    ‘In the end, I couldn’t stand it any longer. There was no real camaraderie in that office; it was just horrible.’

    She eventually wound up organising the catering on major U.S. stadium tours, and even then says the only real problems she faced were from other women desperate to get access to the rock gods.

    Another friend is a female executive assistant at the BBC in Manchester, with more than ten years experience.

    ‘I had two female bosses in human resources, and they were both utter nightmares. Very demanding, but also unclear as to what they wanted,’ she says.

    The experience turned her off working for women to such an extent that for years she refused even to apply for jobs with female bosses.

    ‘Male bosses are much more straightforward,’ she says.

    ‘They are good at giving deadlines and are clearer about their expectations.’

    I seemed to miss out on all that. I even got lucky when I started writing for TV. Like actors, writers all do (or did) The Bill. I was no exception.

    The woman challenged with working my half-baked ideas about armed raids on bookies into perfect 30-minute episodes was wonderful to me.

    On one occasion she spent four hours telling me why everything I’d written was dreadful, but still gave me the encouragement and guidance to turn in a decent script.

    So why do women have a reputation for refusing to help each other in the workplace?

    One motivating factor, in my view, is envy. Most women feel jealous if they see another of their number doing better than them.

    And that is without the added complications and resentments that build up around the issues of holidays and children.

    My wife Michele, a showbiz agent, tells me how a childless female boss at an independent TV company once forced her to fax a 200-page document to Australia late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, despite no one being there to read it.

    Eventually, it was the male head of the TV company who rescued her, letting her escape to buy everything for Christmas in about half an hour before the shops closed.

    Despite this, Michele says she understands that her boss just needed to prove she was more driven and efficient than anyone else, even if it meant turning herself into a monster.

    Another friend, a senior London-based book publisher and mother, swears that childless women bosses are just downright unfair to women who get pregnant.

    In her experience, they are more intolerant than male bosses when women take time off for their family. And not just for school plays and sports days, but even for illnesses.

    ‘I worked at a children’s book publisher where the female boss fired everyone who got pregnant,’ she says.

    ‘You would think being a parent would better qualify people for that job.’

    Could it be that women are harder on women for their own good?

    Females are certainly better placed than anyone to know just how difficult making it can be.

    Perhaps by forcing them to learn to defend themselves and raise their game, they’re giving female employees the tools they need. Or perhaps that’s me being a naive male . . .

    And there are, of course, two sides to every story. A senior woman TV executive told me that female employees who don’t pull their weight are just as much of a problem.

    So, of course, they incur the wrath of their female bosses.

    ‘When you’ve fought the battles, made the sacrifices, you’ve got the job and proved you can do it and still organise the childcare, it really won’t wash when young women who’ve had none of those battles come into a business environment and go all flopsy bunny on you,’ she says.

    ‘It feels as if they’re letting the side down.’

    Many women will say that Queen Bee female bosses can be harder on women than male bosses are on their male subordinates. Maybe that’s because men are simpler folk.

    But a bully is a bully and we’re all flawed. The meanest thing I’ve seen at work was a male boss refusing to let a young, broke, female reporter go on a freebie-of-a-lifetime helicopter trip to the North Pole, just out of spite.

    And the lovely lady who showed me the ropes at my first newspaper?

    She nicked my first front-page story and put her byline on it!

  8. Graphical boy Says:

    I had no idea that kids in first grade would fall in love, Lynne. Let alone real love, I’m not even sure if they would develop a crush on someone of the opposite sex at that age. Does first grade in your country equate to kids about 5 years old?

    If it does, then I’m completely baffled 😕 I used to believe that for kids of that age, male and female friends are almost the same. I mean, a kid would obviously know whether his friend is a boy or girl but it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. I thought kids begin to think romantically much later.

    Is it solely because of the influence of the notorious media? Could it possibly be because of the fact that the age at which kids reach puberty has come down, quite alarmingly in some cases?

    I agree with the report that petty jealousy can lead to women sabotaging the chances of their female colleagues to a much greater extent when compared to men doing the same with their male colleagues.

    Unfortunately, petty jealousy seems to be an intrinsic part of the female DNA when it comes to dealing with members of their own gender, just as aggressiveness is an intrinsic part of the male DNA when it comes to dealing with members of their own gender.

    I don’t mean to say that jealousy is non-existent among men or something like that. Sure, there are plenty of jealous men and aggressive and violent women around. It’s just that jealousy comes more naturally to a woman, just as violent tendencies come more naturally to a man. It must be because of the way humans and human societies have evolved over millenia 😐

    Sometimes the girls do really mean things to others. On the playground, sometimes they run after another girl they don’t like, and pull up her skirt, then shout to the boys, “Look! Look! Her skirt is up!” leaving the girl in tears.

    That’s so shockingly mean 😯 that it borders on the sadistic 😡

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