When Friendship Is Used as a Weapon: Using Life Space Crisis Intervention Skills to Confront Bullying
Whitson, Signe, Reclaiming Children and Youth
The problems kids cause are not the causes of their problems.
-Nicholas J. Long, founder, the LSCI Institute
From time to time in my conversations on the subject of girl bullying, a polite, yet skeptical person will ask me if I think that all of the recent media attention paid to bullying has caused professionals to cite incidents of bullying where perhaps only rudeness exists. I answer quite affirmatively that yes, indeed, "false positives" are a possible outcome of increased awareness, to which the inquirer usually nods a satisfied smile. "More often, however," I follow up quickly, "I find that genuine bullying underlies situations that adults mistakenly write off as harmless. That is what I am even more concerned about." Take, for example, the following real-life situation involving an easy-to-miss incident of girl bullying in a suburban U.S. elementary school.
What the Adults Saw
Third-graders Jada and Liza were swinging together on the playground during recess when their classmate, Riley, approached and asked if she could swing with them. They invited Riley to take the third swing, but just as Riley got going at full speed, the two girls brought their swings to abrupt stops and laughed together as they ran away from the swing set. Jada turned her head and shouted, "We're going over to the walking path, Riley. Have fun swinging."
Confused, Riley impulsively jumped from her swing, landing hard on the ground. She reached down, as if in pain, to rub her left ankle that buckled upon landing. Riley quickly got back up to her feet, however, and raced toward the walking path, to catch up with her classmates. When Jada and Liza noticed Riley approaching, they abruptly veered away from the walking path. Undeterred, Riley caught up to her classmates and said something to them, pointing to the walking path. Jada and Liza looked at each other and began to laugh again before continuing to walk away from Riley.
As soon as the girls turned their backs, Riley reached out and grabbed a hold of the long scarf wrapped around Liza's neck. With a quick yank, she physically turned Liza around to face her then grasped the second end of the scarf. Riley pulled both pieces of the scarf in opposite directions, effectively choking Liza. This lasted for under five seconds before Jada's screams for help caught a recess aide's attention and immediate intervention. Riley was quickly pulled away from Liza and marched to the office of the school's guidance counselor. Liza was shaken by Riley's actions but unharmed.
What the Adults Did Not See
Riley is a bright, but socially awkward eight-yearold girl. She longs to be friends with her classmates but often finds herself excluded from games and activities due to behaviors that her classmates find "quirky" and sometimes even "gross." Riley feels an intense degree of confusion, frustration, and humiliation over repeated incidents of peer exclusion and, on more than one occasion, has gotten into trouble at school for losing control of her emotions and lashing out verbally and/or physically at her peers.
Jada and Liza are best friends. They are in the same third-grade class as Riley. Both girls cite "being popular" as one of their biggest wishes. To Jada and Liza, Riley's predictable emotional outbursts are a source of amusement. The socially savvy girls have intuited that they can elicit over-the-top responses from Riley - effectively controlling her like a puppet - through subtle actions that school teachers and aides easily overlook or fail to notice. Jada and Liza understand from experience that although Riley will get into trouble for her outbursts, they will be able to remain blameless, safely tucked under the radar of school personnel.
Each day during the week prior to the scarf incident, Jada and Liza made arrangements with Riley to meet her at the swings during recess. To Riley, this plan made her feel important and desirable as a friend. …