Curbing Bullying among Teenage Girls
LeBlanc, Dawn M., Techniques
BULLYING INCIDENTS HAVE EXPLODED IN OUR SCHOOLS to the point that many states are requiring that all schools have anti-bullying policies. From years past, this is a huge improvement and a step in the right direction. However, these programs are clearly not "one size fits all." While traditional programs may help the traditional bully, dealing with teenage female bullies, a.k.a. relational aggression, takes a completely different approach. In career and technical education (CTE) this female bullying is often compounded when you have traditional programs, such as cosmetology and nursing, that are mostly populated by females.
The Hollywood dramas "13" and "Mean Girls" might be fiction; however the concept of girls engaging in such risky and mean behavior is clearly true. In addition, with the access to technology, the cyber world lends itself beautifully to the covert type of bullying that is traditional among females. According to Wikipedia, "Relational Aggression, also known as covert bullying, is a type of aggression in which harm is caused through damage to relationships or social status within a group rather than physical violence. Relational aggression is more common and studied among girls than boys."
When specifically talking about teenage girls today, we must first look at the big picture: One in three teenage girls in the United States gets pregnant at least once before turning 20; drug use among girls ages 12-17 has surpassed that of boys in the same age group; and girls make up 30 percent of all juvenile arrests today, and this number is steadily increasing.
In looking at these stats regarding risky behavior, and with the increase in incidents of female bullying, schools today must get a handle on the way their teenage girls go about harassing each other and put in place programs to deter it. Because of the concentration of females in traditional CTE programs, getting a handle on this type of behavior is imperative to the safety and well-being of all. Gossip, lies, rumors, the silent treatment--these are all aspects of relational aggression that at a glance have been around for a long time. However, combined with the increase of risky behavior among teenage girls and their easy access to the cyber world, these things have created an entirely new kind of bully, the "Uber Bully."
The Internet and cell phones have become their new recruiting playground serving as "weapons of peer destruction." The use of technology keeps the cyber-bully virtually anonymous. It frees teens from their traditional morals, norms, ethics and, at times, their conscience.
The Cyber and Cell Phone Bully
Cyber-bullying takes many forms and multiplies every day. Educators must stay on top of what is out there so that they know where to look when investigating a bullying incident. E-mails, instant messages, blogs, burn books, MySpace, Face-book, Twitter, Flash Mobs, YouTube, and Formspring.me are just a few of the evergrowing tools that are being used to bully in the cyber world. Most of the bullying on these sites can be done anonymously, has less opportunity for adult intervention and can involve hundreds of people.
The cell phone has become an integral weapon for bullies with sexting being at the forefront of concerns. Sexting is a result of advances in technology enabling new forms of social interaction. Messages with sexual content are being exchanged via text messages or online. Newer technology also allows photographs and videos, which are intrinsically more explicit and have a greater impact. According to a survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (2009), 20 percent of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves.
In addition, 71 percent of teen girls have posted content to a boyfriend. The social danger of sexting is, of course, that material can very easily and widely promulgate, over which the originator has no control. This easiness of passing the photos and such on to others can be done purposely and very often used in cases of female bullying. The results and outcomes of sexting can involve a spectrum of negative issues from teen dating violence to blackmail, peer pressure, cyber-bullying and in several instances sexting has even resulted in suicide.
Addressing a Growing Problem
So how do we tackle the "Uber Bully," this beast who is entrenching itself into our culture, thus into our schools? In CTE, with such a concentration of females in traditional programs, many administrators have wondered: "Are we facing a losing battle? Should we give up on the 'no cell phone' policies?" To that I would shout an adamant "absolutely not!" However, this beast cannot be tackled and defeated alone; it must be a team effort. Who needs to be on this team? School administration, counselors, teachers, parents and law enforcement all need to work together to intervene in bullying issues. To do this everyone must be in the know. Parents and staff members need to know about the trends in risky behavior, they need to be able to identify relational aggression, and they need knowledge about the current cyber media used by students to bully and harass their peers online.
Some strategies that have been very effective include applying a gang or anti-terrorist approach to bullying. Schools must handle the situation rapidly by identifying the key players and taking out the "MVP." Schools must also ensure that there is a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying and harassment. This policy needs to include a form of progressive discipline in such a way that students realize that criminal charges will be an end result of continued harassment. Does this sound a little over the top? Twelve years ago, as a new administrator, I thought so. However, I soon learned that just dealing with a few "MVPs" sends a very clear message to the rest of the students that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.
Just applying a zero tolerance policy alone will not lend itself to effective results. This has to go hand-in-hand with the "softer side" of handling teenagers, especially those ever-so-emotional girls. Schools must empower their students. This empowerment essentially means giving students a venue to report bully. It also includes providing programs that encourage students to stand up for themselves, walk away, and work on their self-esteem. Additionally, schools should consider programs that include students in the process such as peer mediation, girls circle and teen court. Most importantly, however, is to let students know that you care and that you will do what you can to ensure their safety. Just showing the school cares goes so much farther than any "canned" antibullying/relational aggression program out there.
Vigilance is Key
Trying to keep up with the changing norms for females and the growing risky behavior they are participating in is overwhelming. In CTE we must be vigilant in identifying these behaviors because we have such high concentrations of females in some of our programs. We must be able to identify the covert bullying that is lingering in our labs in order to keep our students emotionally and physically safe. When we throw the cyber world and the role it plays in bullying into the mix, it seems impossible to tackle the new forms of bullying that utilize technology. But with clear, tough policies, a team approach, education of staff and parents and student involvement, this new form of bullying can be controlled.
Dawn M. LeBlanc, Ed.D., is principal/assistant director of the North Montco Technical Career Center in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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Publication information: Article title: Curbing Bullying among Teenage Girls. Contributors: LeBlanc, Dawn M. - Author. Magazine title: Techniques. Volume: 85. Issue: 7 Publication date: October 2010. Page number: 8+. © 2007 Association for Career and Technical Education. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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