Child psychologist and former teacher, Dr. Sam Littlemore, offered some advice in the recent ATL magazine on helping the victims and perpetrators of girl bullying. Littlemore is the author of Girl Bullying: Do I Look Bothered?
Bullying is a problem across the gender divide, but while there are girls who bully physically, it is the way in which girl bullies scan for weakness in social status, and thus vulnerability to manipulation, that can prove particularly problematic to deal with. Because of a perceived lack of evidence, it can be denied by perpetrators; supported by a lack of witnesses willing to stand up; or dismissed as false allegations, a victim mentality or a friendship issue.
Here are some reactive intervention strategies.
- With the perpetrator, use a timeline to track when the bullying behaviour happens. List the rewards she feels she gains when she uses power over someone and find a way to achieve them in a pro-social way instead. Indirect, psychological bullying is about redressing gains and rewards.
- Discuss with her the idea of power, gain and control. Work with her to focus on the impact of her behaviour on others. You could use familiar soap-opera scenarios as examples of bullying behaviour and behaviour change.
- Spend a few weeks keeping the pack and perpetrator busy during free time. Engage them in social roles at school, but as individuals rather than as a group: the girls learn that there is a different way to build an identity and gain respect.
- Staff members can support the victim by noting down any incidents, but don’t encourage the student to keep a record herself, or she could keep going over incidents again and again. A staff member can look after the record and talk incidents through with her.
- Ask the victim to draw around her hand and write the name of a supportive member of staff on each finger. This shows that there is a team willing to help her. This intervention can also be used for the perpetrator, who needs a support team to help her change her behaviour.
- Help the victim to regain confidence within another friendship group. Also help to give her a focus at school, especially in free time.
- Encourage all bystanders to take the responsibility to integrate an isolated student. They should involve her in their social activities and play an active role in reducing indirect bullying.
Help students learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, but allow them to generate the definitions. This can empower them to make better choices in their friendships. Children learn to bully. Bystanders learn to stand by. They can also learn that bullying is normal behaviour if there is no intervention. No one person can socially isolate another; it takes a whole playground to join in and adults to turn a blind eye. It’s everybody’s responsibility to prevent this.
Whilst obviously focussed on an education setting, there is many ways these tips can be used in youth work settings.