Lifelong Scars of Bullying
Girl bullies or their victims may not come home with black eyes like boys do, but the damage they cause is serious, writes OMESHNIE NAIDOO
It is hard to imagine the cheerful Miley Cyrus as being mean, but the Hannah Montana star was last year reported to have ridiculed fellow teenage actresses in a YouTube video.
Disney actress Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez were the victims of the mocking incident in which Cyrus and her friend Mandy made fun of a T-shirt Gomez was wearing and teased Lovato about a gap she used to have in her teeth.
They are among the new breed of girl bullies who are at every school and every level of society While they're not getting into fist fights or coming home with a black eye like boys, the psychological warfare that girls ? some as young as three ? are engaging in can leave scars for the rest of their lives.
They spread rumours and gossip, tease each other about their looks and intelligence and build alliances to divulge secrets and backstab. Verbal insults, along with a powerful tool ? exclusion ? are also used.
Researchers call it relational aggression. This includes any behaviour that intentionally harms another person's self-esteem, friendships, or social status. It can occur between close friends or in ways that damage a person's relationship with a larger group of peers and it begins early.
According to an article by Suzanne Marie Fanger on wwwscholistics.com, although the ?mean girls? phenomenon is associated with girls aged about 11 or 12, in truth, bullying is commonly witnessed in children (of both genders) as young as three in the US.
For adults it is difficult to detect, and often the distress is underestimated as the children involved tend to downplay its significance.
And even when teachers or parents do suspect something serious is up, they are often at a loss as to how to resolve the situation, writes Fanger "Research shows that the victim role becomes stabilised by the time a child is five years old. "
Indeed, as children mature, and their social skifis improve, the methods of hurting each other becotne more sophisticated and painful." Cassey Arnoore, at The South African Depression and Anxiety Group, says "growing up is a turbulent enough time for young girls, who are hyper-conscious of body image, self-identity and self-worth, without having someone poke fun at who they are. "
It can cause a drop in grades, low self-esteem, anxiety depression, even drug use and poor eating habits.
Amoore says it is commonly understood that bullies have incredibly low self-esteem.
?It is because bullies think so little of themselves that they try to project that pain on to others. It is normally-someone else who doesn?t lit in to the "popular" crowd or has qualities that the bully may wish she had (be more intelligent or better looking, for example).
"Girls who bully may also be using bullying as to find out why that child feels the need to be a bu11~ or be bullied," says Amoore.
A Durban school counsellor says the effects on the victim can be devastating.
"It can affect the child?s self esteem for life, and leave parents distraught; in some instances it can affect the conimunity as suicide is one of the extreme outcomes.
"In school the child may have tension headaches, acne, panic attacks, mental exhaustion and stomach ulcers. The victim can suffer emotional injur~~ such as depression, sadness, feai~ panic, stuttering, nervousness, constant crying, timidity helplessness, paranoia, phobias, anger and aggression.
"It can also lead to low self-esteem, complexes, lack of concentration, poor memory disorganisation and the inability to think clearly.
"Socially, a child who is bullied may withdraw or become aggressive or irritable and can give into negative peer pressure such as substance abuse." She says parenta should be watchfUl of their children, as much of what goes on at school is out of their hands.
Signs to be awareof: ? Look for emotional changes in your child. This can range from withdrawal to aggression. Easier to~ detect is the inability to concentrate; sleep soundly or a change in eating habits.
" There may also be a change in your child's academic performance or physical complaints such as stomach aches, nausea, vomiting or disorders related to a low immune system.
" Look out for any signs of self-mutilation.
" Protect your child by loving her and letting her know you believe in her " Build her self esteem; model assertive and respectful behaviour in the home and encourage independence and strong thinking skifis.
" Develop their emotional intelligence and model acceptable social behaviour " Encourage your child to speak up and communicate, especially when things go wrong.
" Establish support systems for your child: parents, family members, teachers as well a way to gain power popularity or control. It usually occurs in groups and others join in or are pressured to bully other girls or a particular victim in order ?to be part of the group?.
"~A girl bully wifi target someone who is different, to belittle; weaker to dominate; and stronge to neutralise.
"The causes of bullying are all unique to each situation, and a teacher or another adult, needs to find out why that child foals th~ n~d tn h~ ~i Teen star Miley Cyrus, left, was recently involved in a bullying incident with fellow actress Demi Lovato, right as counsellors.
" Empower them to problem solve. Teach your child to be selective when making friends and get to know their friends well yourseW ? Educate children as to what is acceptable and comfortable behaviour " Educate them about their human rights.
AMOORE'S ADVICE: " Be open to the possibility that your child may be being bullied; " If you suspect something may be wrong, look for signs in the child's appearance, for example, torn clothes or scratch marks; " Take note if your child has puffy eyes from crying a lot; "They avoid going to school (eg, constantly not feeling well in order to miss school); " They become anxious when they have to go to school; " They withdraw from family and friends and don?t take part in activities that they once ? enjoyed; " Listen to your child. Take him/her seriously; ? Never ever blame the child ? it is not their fault; ? Reassure them they were right in telling you; " Don't promise to keep it a secret; " Discuss some practical ways to solve the problem; " Teach self confidence, assertiveness and social skifis; " Enrol children in extra-mural activities to help them widen their ~t social circle; " Never expect kids to work it out on their own; " Parents should always speak to the child's teacher and find out what has been happening at school. They should work together to stop the bullying. Talk to teachers and other parents" if there is one bullied child, there wifi definitely be others.