We hear the word "bully" and tend to think of aggression, physical abuse, and hazing -- and we tend to think "boy." But girls can be bullies, too. They might not resort to fist fights after school, but the psychological warfare "mean girls" wage can have just as devastating an effect, leading to self esteem issues, anxiety, poor grades, drug use, depression, and eating disorders in young girls.
Over at the Silicon Valley Moms Blog, Joanna posted about attending a recent lecture by Rachel Simmons, the author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and Stand Up! What Every Parent Needs to Know About Cyber Bullying (which you can download for free here).
"I remember feeling bullied and left out, and those feelings have a lasting impact on me," Joanna writes in her post. "To this day I feel some hostility when the names of some of those girls come up in conversation."
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, a typical girl who bullies is well-liked by parents and teachers, does well academically, and may even actually be friends with her victim. Instead of physical violence, "she spreads rumors, gossips, excludes others, shares secrets, and teases girls about their hair, weight, intelligence, and athletic ability," a NCPC report on girls and bullying points out. She often persuades other girls to join in the bullying and, because she's usually well-liked by adults and generally popular with other kids, adults tend not to realize that another child is being victimized.
It's tempting to give the bully's parents a piece of your mind or to try to protect your child by reprimanding the bully yourself -- I know I certainly wanted to when one of our older kids was being bullied in school. Parents also tend to tell their kids that the bully is "just jealous," which may be true, but isn't very helpful.
So, what should you do if your daughter is dealing with a bully? I'm not an expert, so I turned to a few people who are.
Simmons suggests that you don't over-emphasize, over-dramatize, or internalize the problem, and don't ask your daughter what she did to provoke the incident.
Michelle New at kidshealth.org suggests teaching kids to avoid the bully, "stand tall and be brave," feel good about themselves, and "get a buddy and be a buddy."
Carly Young at Lifescript.com suggests finding a positive role model, not trying too hard to be part of a group that doesn't accept you, and finding an activity or goal that gives you a bigger sense of purpose.
Have you or your child had to deal with a "mean girl" or with bullying in general? How did you handle the situation?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.