In a previous blog, we talked about how 23.7% girls were bullied in a sample size of 12 million + students according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.
The rest of that article went on to talk about girl on girl bullying.
But girls aren’t the only perpetrators of relational aggression – or “mean girl”-type social behavior.
Sometimes boys are the culprits.
Typically, the first thing that jumps to mind when we think of boys bullying girls is sexual or physical aggression. But that isn’t the only kind of bullying, of course.
Bully, Teasing, and Relational Aggression
Let’s review some definitions to be sure we know to what we are referring. The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.” They also note that the person on the receiving end of the bullying often does nothing to “cause” or bring on the bullying and additionally has a hard time, generally, defending him or herself.
Let’s contrast this with teasing. Merriam-Webster defines to tease as “to disturb or annoy by persistent irritating or provoking especially in a petty or mischievous way.” Ain’t that the truth! The challenge is in knowing that this can take many forms. Teasing can be used to show affection or it can have a negative impact and be purely hurtful. No matter what the reason, the important thing to remember is that the teaser is trying to provoke their target into some reaction.
Then we have a thing known as relational aggression. This is the type of aggression that aims to damage specifically one’s social status or relationships. Think, Mean Girls. But it would be a mistake to ONLY categorize girls as pros at this type of manipulation. This is a common tactic for boys to employ too. Spreading rumors, gossiping, calling other people names, exclusion. These are all examples of relational aggression and get big responses – against both other boys and girls.
What Causes Boys to Tease Girls?
But why? What motivates boys to target girls this way? Honestly, the answer to that question may never be known. Typically, girls act this way towards other girls due to some jealousy they may feel. For boys, though, it may be something different.
Often times boys tease others kids in order to establish some sort of hierarchy. This is especially true for boys among other boys. The one who teases others is “the boss.” He can then take this behavior and solidify his standing when he spreads rumors about girls, sneers at someone as they walk down the hall and jabs at his buddies to do the same, when he insults people. Then, if the person reacts with a sense of embarrassment or hurt, he puffs up a bit more in the chest. He feels a little stronger, maybe more popular, because he has affected the person in a negative way, and his friends probably went along with it. Which by the way, means they aren’t that person’s friends.
This behavior is very typical of someone (guy or girl) who doesn’t feel very good about themselves and needs an ego boost. If this guy puts others down, his self-esteem goes up. If he can keep this behavior up and no one challenges them, then their own vulnerabilities are hidden behind that mask of popularity.
Yes. It may look like he’s a popular guy, but he’s also a jerk. If he can treat one girl like this, he’ll likely do it to somebody else. Sure, boys may envy him; other girls may have crushes on him. In the end, he’s a loser in the eyes of his victim, and they really don’t need him. Sooner or later, others will begin to figure out who he is and how he treats people. I realize that’s probably no great satisfaction for the target in this moment but, trust me, in the long-run they don’t want to be his very unlucky future wife…or second wife, or third wife… Well, you get the picture!
Some boys also have a very deep sense of needing to seem “manly” or macho. Machismo is rooted in Spanish and refers to a “strong sense of masculine pride”. Usually, machismo goes hand in hand with rigid gender roles – aggression, power, strength. And what better way for a teen boy to show his power over someone than to put them down and make them feel bad about themselves, to make them feel weak – even if they are not.
There has been enough bullying education in schools that it’s pretty close to common knowledge that if you cause bodily harm in any way, in front of anyone, that you are going to be busted for bullying. But this form of relational aggression, affecting another person’s relationships or social status, is quieter. Some may even blow off boys behaving like towards girls as them just “being boys” or “flirting.”
Nope. This can be equally as damaging.
What can girls do about boys bullying them?
Manage Your Reactions
It’s common for the bullying and hurtful comments start as teasing and escalate from there. Boys who bully and relentlessly pick on girls continue to do so because they are getting a reaction that is favorable for them. Meaning, it is obviously the target is hurt and upset, feeling weak. This makes them feel better. If girls take away the impression that the boy is succeeding in getting the reaction – to be upset, or feel badly – then it takes away some of their power.
Girls should strive to hold their head high. Look them in the eye. Keep calm. Maybe even smile.
Please realize, their words may still hurt. The victim of this bullying will be upset and should 100% seek support from friends, parents, teachers, and other people in authority who can help this situation. The thing here is that the girl is helping to diffuse the issue and remove herself as a target for the teasing or bullying because she is not giving the boy what he wants – the satisfaction of publicly humiliating her. It may not completely SOLVE the problem, but it can start to move it in the right direction.
Practice The “One-Liner”
The Love and Logic Institute has a lot of wonderful parenting tips. One of their lessons is around “tease proofing,” a method of helping kids overcome teasing. This is part of that. A one liner is just what it sounds like, a one-line sentence that can work to stop something in its tracks. In this case, we want to stop the barrage of hurtful words. When the teaser starts his current attack, maintain composure as in the previous tip. Then when he is done saying whatever he’s saying, the girl delivers her one-liner. Here are a few choices….
- “Thanks for sharing that.”
- “I’m not sure how to react to that. I’ll have to get back to you on it.”
Another way to go is simply to say:
“If your goal was to create pain, you succeeded. The fact that you knew it would, says so much more about you than it does about me.”
“The good news for me is now I know who you really are, before I get in any deeper. I truly feel sorry for you.”
Remember the PURPOSE of this is to throw them off their game. It’s short and sweet. Kind of makes sense, but generally puts an end to any “situation” there may have been. They aren’t used to this kind of retort; to the swagger and moxie the girl shows.
For her to listen attentively and calmly, then deliver this one-liner and walk away often leaves them befuddled. Their game no longer works.
This is a biggie. No one should go through this alone. If you or someone you know is the victim of bullying, the very last thing that should be done is to let it silently go on. This is damaging to one’s self-esteem and has proven to not be a good coping skill or be of any help.
Instead, encourage them to reach out for support. Don’t let them keep it to themselves. Locking it inside will only make things worse as it will intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation. I don’t wish that for anyone. Reach out to parents, friends, teachers, or a school counselor for support.
Whether you have been bullied or teased by someone, or you are the parent of a child or teenager who has been hurt by one or more of their peers, feel free to reach out to me. I have helped hundreds of parents and their children/teenagers cope with these situations.