Understanding different types of bullying and its effects on children
It’s a sad fact that most young people experience bullying at some stage. But while boys and girls are equally likely to be on the receiving end, for a girl it’s more often hidden to the casual observer. That’s why it’s important for parents to recognise the signs of bullying among girls and be aware of its dangers.Girl bullies vs boy bullies: the different types of bullying
What are the key differences between the way girls and boys bully or experience bullying?
- Subtle. With girls, bullying tends to be subtle. It’s more likely to involve social bullying tactics such as ostracism, alienation and rumour spreading than face-to-face verbal bullying
- Premeditated. Girls are more likely to engage in premeditated bullying, whereas with boys, bullying tends to be more opportunistic
- Psychological or emotional bullying. With boys, bullying is more likely to be physical. Some boys like the status that comes with getting involved in fights. Girls are more likely to be involved in surreptitious and psychological bullying (such as hurting feelings) rather than physical bullying
- Boys and girls. Girls may be bullied by both other girls and boys. Boys, in contrast, are more often bullied only by boys
When bullying is physical, adults tend to react quickly. With a girl bully, because the bullying is more likely to be psychological, it can be harder to spot – but it’s just as important to take action.
Social bullying tactics: peer exclusion
Psychologist Dr Nancy Etcoff, an expert in the neuroscience of emotion, explains: “With boys there might be aggression, punching. With girls, it’s much more covert. It’s about reputations, freezing individuals out, excluding them from the social group.”
This is extraordinarily undermining – and therefore effective from the bully’s point of view – because in a young person’s world, social relationships matter more than anything. A young girl is wired to connect, so anything that hinders or threatens this is a massive blow.
If your daughter is being squeezed out of her social circle by a bully or bullies, it will overshadow everything else in her life. To you, it may seem like an overreaction, but all your girl wants is to be part of a gang of friends – they’re the centre of her universe and what make her life worth living (she thinks).
Girls’ bullying focuses on physical appearance
Young people worry greatly about fitting in, so it’s not surprising that girls' bullying often focuses on looks, especially looking ‘different’. One study in the UK found 56% of girls had been picked on because of their weight, body shape, height or hair colour.
Because girls care so passionately about fitting in and being part of their social group, being bullied about their appearance can hit them especially hard. Research has found that being bullied, even infrequently, raises the risk of depression in girls, whereas with boys the risk is only raised if the bullying is frequent. The research also found that girls who are bullied are more at risk of engaging in substance use.
Another heartbreaking finding from the UK research was that girls who had been bullied then consequently refused to believe nice things said about them – especially about their looks. Being a victim of bullying is devastating for girls' self-esteem.
It’s important as a parent to be aware of what’s going on in your daughter’s life. How are her friendships developing? Is she being kind to others and receiving the kindness she deserves from them?
Friends or 'frenemies'? Spotting the signs of bullying
‘Frenemies’ is the name given to people who might pretend to be a friend, when in fact they undermine others' self-esteem and positive body confidence – often because they’re lacking in self-confidence themselves. It can take a while to realise that a girl who appears to be a friend is actually working against you and is perhaps, in an indirect way, a bully themselves.
Talk to your daughter about frenemies. Tell her to look out for 'friends' who:
- Constantly compare themselves with her, or seem to compete with her all the time
- Seem to always mix a compliment with a criticism
- Gossip about her behind her back
- Cancel plans they’ve made together when a better offer comes along
For more information about discussing bullying with your child, read our article How to spot signs of bullying.
Acknowledge your daughter’s feelings
If she feels undermined by the taunts, gestures or behaviour of other girls (or boys), she’s right – however it might look from the outside. Don’t tell her it’s not happening or that she should ignore it. Listen to her and believe her story
Talk to her about her friendship circle
If she’s having problems with her friends, see if she can work out how she might improve the situation. It's best to help her resolve things, rather than having to weigh in yourself
Be prepared to take action
If all else fails, consider talking to your daughter’s teacher or even approaching the parent of another girl
Teach her to stand her ground
Make sure she knows never to ingratiate herself with a bully. Explain that if she goes along with what a bully wants, it’s likely to make the situation worse
Remind her that bullies are cowards
Standing up to a bully is usually the best way forward. It takes courage but with success comes a tremendous sense of self-esteem and empowerment
Share our ‘Sticks and Stones’ video with her
Show her how sometimes hurtful comments from other people aren’t always what they appear. Ask her to watch our ‘Sticks and Stones’ video