The term “bullying” can refer to a wide range of behaviors. I begin this workshop by describing the four kinds of bullying:
We explore the different motivations underlying each of these behaviors.
Next we consider who is the bully and who is the victim in each of these kinds of bullying. In boy-on-boy bullying, the bully and the victim usually come from different social groups. The boy bully is usually, though not always, bigger and physically stronger than his victim. The victim is often a “gender-atypical” boy. These gender-atypical boys share a number of characteristics which distinguish them from ‘mainstream’ boys (for the relevant scholarly citations, please see Why Gender Matters, chapter 9):
This last point is particularly important. School leaders and teachers often misunderstand what is happening in boy-on-boy bullying. The victim in boy-on-boy bullying is often teased as being “gay.” The school faculty mistakenly believe that they are witnessing “hate”-based bullying, i.e. they think that the victim is being bullied because the victim is believed to be gay. In fact, the bully usually is aware that the victim is not gay. The bully is calling the victim a fag as another way of tormenting him. School leaders then implement programs designed to promote empathy among straight kids toward non-heterosexual peers. Such programs might help to diminish bullying motivated by “hate” but such programs do nothing to prevent the boy-on-boy bullying we are talking about here.
In girl-on-girl bullying, the girl and the victim often come from the same social circle. In many cases, Sonia and Vanessa were friends, sometimes even best friends; then suddenly Sonia begins a campaign of bullying against Vanessa. Sonia also tries to get her friends to be mean to Vanessa. The most common precipitant is some event which causes Sonia to perceive Vanessa as a threat to Sonia’s social niche. Sometimes the precipitating event is obvious, for example if Sonia’s boyfriend shows a romantic interest in Vanessa. Sometimes it’s more subtle: for example, a friend might say “Did you hear what Vanessa did? It was SO funny. Hysterical! She is SUCH a clown.” If Sonia perceives her own role as the being the clown in her social circle, and a friend gives Vanessa the title of clown, Sonia may feel that her own niche is threatened. Sonia may not realize that there is room for more than one girl in that niche. After all, Sonia is not an adult woman; she does not have the judgment and perspective that an adult has.
The boy bully is often easy to recognize. Boys who bully are less socially sophisticated, on average, than boys who don’t. But that’s not true for girls. Girls who bully are often more socially sophisticated than girls who don’t; and girls who bully are often especially adept with adults. As a result, adults who have not been trained in these differences often don’t perceive the girl-on-girl bullying which is going on in front of them.
Tactics vary. Traditionally, boy-on-boy bullying has been more physical. Getting shoved into a locker is a classic example of boy-on-boy physical bullying. Likewise, girl-on-girl bullying used to be more subtle and concealed: an unkind look, a roll of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders – easily missed by grown-ups who are not in the loop. But that’s changing. Across North America, girl-on-girl bullying is becoming more physical and more violent, for reasons I explore in Girls on the Edge. In addition, girl-on-girl bullying seems to be occurring at younger and younger ages. Girl-girl bullying which would have been typical of girls in middle school 20 years ago is now often seen in the elementary grades, even the early elementary grades.
Cyberbullying is best understood as a tactic rather than as a different category of bullying. Each of the four bullies described above may employ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. in their bullying; and each may use texting as a medium for bullying. But the most effective way to eliminate cyberbullying is to address the root cause of the behavior, while also deploying other specific strategies to address some of the technical challenges posed by cyberbullying both online and via text message.
Effective strategies which actually do work to end these behaviors must begin with a solid understanding of how these four kinds of bullying are different. Empathy-based strategies are of some value in preventing “hate”-based bullying but have little effectiveness in preventing or stopping the other three types. I show how school leaders, along with counselors and classroom teachers, can change the culture of the school so that girls and boys no longer want to bully others. Examples are drawn from schools which have eliminated bullying by employing these strategies. School leaders and classroom teachers must work mindfully and intentionally to create a school culture which is consciously opposed to the current popular culture; a school culture in which girls and boys, including the most popular girls and boys, strive to be “ladies and gentlemen.” I give examples of schools where I have visited and worked, which have successfully created such a culture. We consider several case studies, specific situations in real schools, pausing for discussion at different points in the story to consider alternate strategies for intervention.