Busting the modern face of bullying

There is a difference between the way that males and females show relational aggression (bullying). The way that the brain deals with dangerous situations is to “fight, flee or freeze” and boys will often choose to be physically aggressive to force the other person to submit to their dominance (“freeze or flee”). Girls naturally gravitate to “tend and befriend” if they are in an uncomfortable situation and they use this very nature to also hurt and turn on each other. Teenage girls will bully in their “befriended packs” and utilize things like alienation, ostracism, deliberate and calculated exclusions, rumors and harassment of their peers as a way of exerting control and to jockey for popularity and positions of power amongst their peers.

Developmentally pre-teens and adolescents are aiming to address the needs of:

  • Forming an independent identity (sense of self) and acceptance of self.
  • Building relationships and a belonging amongst others.
  •  Impulse control, problem solving and decision making.
  • Finding a meaning in their daily experiences.

If these basic needs are not met then they become vulnerable to being targeted for relational aggression by others. There are strategies that parents and schools can put into place to reduce the likelihood of relational aggression:

  • Adolescents need to be taught to accept themselves for who they are. It is important to focus on what is “right” with them instead of always focusing on the negative things they have to work on. Adolescents are very self critical and their uniqueness needs to be amplified and celebrated. They need to find joy in who they are as individuals.
  • Parents need to discuss perspective with their children. Adolescents need to be shown and guided to understand that some behaviours can be harmful to others.
  • Healthy ways of dealing with conflict and differences needs to be modeled. Adolescents will mirror what they observe and what they see their significant adults in their lives do. It is therefore important to guard our words about what we say of other people and how we treat them. Empathy needs to be shown and expressed.
  • Communication skills need to be taught- it is not what you say but also how it is said. Girls often feel hurt about the way that others have spoken to them and they don’t always know the difference between teasing, ill considered comment and bullying.
  • Basic needs as discussed should be met by daily conversations, examples and modelling.
  • Humour and assertiveness often diffuses tense situations amongst teens.
  • Teaching adolescents to use retorts as a way of responding for example: Bully: “you are such a geek”. Retort: “I’m actually still in training, I’m going for my license soon”. On continuous negative statements: “I’m getting bored, can you think of something new to say?”  By responding in such a manner the adolescent stands up for himself/herself without becoming involved in arguments. The novel way of answering the bully shifts the power focus. Bullies are fairly confident people and they respond well to other confident people who do not attack them.
  • Release emotions in private by utilizing an activity such as exercise and learning relaxation to deal with bottled up emotions.
  • Develop a support network- friends and trusted adults who can support the adolescent who is being targeted.
  • Utilize the 4 “R”s- Recognize bullying behaviour, Relate incidences to the school to be followed up, Report the incidences as it is the responsible thing to do and Record the evidence the adolescent gives of the behaviour. Keeping quiet about it will not solve the problem!
  • Parents can also inform the other parent of what is happening through correspondence. Avoid personal confrontation but rather put it in writing and attach evidence. Keep copies of sent emails. Give the other parents the opportunity to correct the behaviour with their child.

Bullies are about power and control and confronting them or stopping them usurps their sense of power. Bullies quickly lose their power when people stop passively accepting their behavior. Never ignore bullying.

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