Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mean Girls Grow Up

Teri at has opened a discussion about female relational aggression and I love it!  It's so great to hear the ideas and good thoughts about resolving one of the toughest issues in our culture! 

Pam at over50feeling40 also invited discussions on her blog today.  And Sally at is gathering a collection of resources for our daughters and granddaughters about positive body images which leads into the painful memories of women who were bullied. 

This is a topic which is so close to my heart.  I worked within a fantastic pilot program that was being developed across the nation to find ways that actually worked with real girls in combatting the bullying behavior.   The program was dissolved at its point of peak harvest.  It was devastating to watch as it disappeared in a corporate merger process.

My personal passion for anti-bullying developed after suffering through several years of workplace bullying.  Let's face it.  Mean girls grow up.  Those awful behaviors on the playground only get more devious and deadly as they practice their skills over the years.  And the leadership of the company never sees it.  hmmm......just like the teacher never sees it.  People who are good at hurting this way don't get caught.  Most corporations with this problem have at least one serial bully in the top leadership.  A serial bully cannot go more than 6 or 8 weeks without having a target.  One target leaves in a fit of tears and the next victim is chosen to fill the slot. 

Being an annonymous commenter on a blog also fits nicely in this category. 

I could go on for days.  But I would like to share a few points that seem to get lost in the discussion of our girls (and grown up girls) and their mean behaviors:

1.  Youth culture has changed DRASTICALLY in the past decade.  We continue to build programs and teach youth as if they were born twenty or more years ago.  It's not working!

2.  With children, the bully on the morning bus becomes the witness to bullying activity at morning recess and then becomes the target at lunch.  Very rarely is there one bully, one target.  Children switch roles throughout the day.  They only practice the behavior after they have experienced it themselves.

3.  An adult in the group (of children or youth) is (many? at least measureably some) times using bullying behavior themselves.  Once the young people see the behavior is being practiced and is tolerated, it escalates in that particular environment.   This is also true later in workplace culture.  If leadership practices and tolerates it, it will prevade the culture.  Think about the last job you left - did you leave because of the work?  or because of the culture?

4.  Focusing on changing the bully or the target (victim) rarely works.  As in item 1 above, we as adults would reason that you would take action against the bully or take action to protect the target in order to change the circumstance.  Neither has been proven to work.  The witnesses (anyone who was there when the event happened) are part of the event.  They are the only ones with the power to make change.  We would be so much better off as a culture if we focused on training them to take appropriate and immediate action each time they witnessed an event.  Sadly, we don't.

5.  Targets must clearly be seen as that - just targets.  They have little to nothing to do with why they were chosen.  Think of a group of kids with bb guns in the backyard.  They look for a target - anything will do.  Whatever pops up in front of them that is within the range that they think they can hit .....this is their target.

6.  Female relational aggression is the name given to the special ways females have developed to hurt each other.  Although physical violence among females is on the rise, most of the time they use much more devious and long-lasting ways to hurt each other.  This anecdotal story might help you remember how it starts.  Toddler children begin by hugging and loving on each other.  They then move to a phase where they will hit, bite and kick each other.  As they mature, the boys generally develop large muscle coordination and strength earliest.  Girls begin to lose in the hitting, biting and kicking episodes.  But, they rule the world of language earlier (in general).  So in order to hold their own, they begin to sharpen their language skills to hurt others. 

Thanks to Teri, Pam and Sally for keeping the conversation going!  The top expert in the field, I believe is Alison Hill at Critical Issues 4 Girls

Another over-the-top fantastic woman in the field is Yvonne St.John-Dutra, founder of Challenge Day.   And the work that was funded through the Colorado Trust after Columbine is wonderful if you can get your hands on it.    Alison of would know the status of using the material if you happen to be working with a group of girls and need resources. 

Thank you for reading!  Thank you for standing up as witnesses to the online bullying that happens on our blogs!


Terri said...

Oh, thank you for the additional information to the fine comment you left at Rags. I was really taken with the potential for the same child to play different roles in the bullying dynamic all on the same day. A book I read during my girls' teen years was Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. It was all too apparent to me that being a teen had changed drastically.

Kitty said...

The Ophelia research is still some of the best in the field. And I really like some of the work that came out of Colorado years after their Columbine incident. Thanks, Terri, for facing the issue with the bullying bloggers and supporting those who were getting hurt!