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 close group of friends—they’re the center 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 color.
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 realize 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 combine a compliment with a criticism
• Gossip about her behind her back
• Cancel plans they’ve made together when a better offer comes along