Bullying – tougher on women

Phoebe Prince, a South Hadley High School freshman… hanged herself in January after what prosecutors called an “unrelenting” three-month bullying campaign by six teenagers… A prosecutor…said school administrators and teachers knew about the harassment but did little to stop it.

AP – Stephanie Reitz – April 8, 2010:

This is an excerpt from an AP article posted today regarding the “not-guilty” plea entered by lawyers for 3 women charged in this tragic case, where a 15-year-old girl hanged herself in her own home to escape brutal bullying that had become unbearable. What follows the article are readers’ comments, which tragically illuminate a chronic cycle across this nation’s schools, where children are apparently brutally bullied while school administrators and teachers look the other way.

Why do we expect so little from our school administrators? Why do we succumb to the notion that nothing need be done until tragedy unfolds?

One contributor writes:

My daughter was bullied endlessly and relentlessly at her old school…the school saw it as a ‘girls will be girls’ thing. They didn’t have to see my daughter cry every day and slip into a depression over it, so they basically washed their hands of it… We eventually had to leave the school district to save our daughter.

It turns out that nearly 15% of all school aged children, according to safeyouth.org,  report they are either bullying or being bullied at some point or another. That is a very high number given the fact that in 2006-2007 there were 75.5 million school aged children in the US, according to www.census.gov. I suspect that if as many students were to report having hearing trouble, or a headache or showing up to school with only one shoe on their feet, there would be a hue and a cry over the “problem”. But when suffering is silent, with no outward manifestation of pain or anomaly in the student’s appearance, no one seems compelled to take notice that the problem exists.

Parents of all children are likely worried about the bullying that takes place in schools across America, whether they suspect their child is bullying or being bullied. Although the ones being bullied, in exceptional circumstances, can attempt suicide, the ones doing the bullying are also at risk. They may end up in juvenile court or with a criminal record that debilitates them from being able to get a proper job and have a chance at a fair future. Bullying hurts everyone. In the case of women, bullying seems to be more psychological than physical. Being bullied also seems to affect female victims more severely psychologically:

Male vs. Female
Bullying takes on different forms in male and female youth. While both male and female youth say that others bully them by making fun of the way they look or talk, males are more likely to report being hit, slapped, or pushed. Female youth are more likely than males to report being the targets of rumors and sexual comments. While male youth target both boys and girls, female youth most often bully other girls, using more subtle and indirect forms of aggression than boys. For example, instead of physically harming [each other], they are more likely to spread gossip or encourage others to reject or exclude another girl. www.safeyouth.org

So girls are harsher towards girls than boys are towards boys. It seems girls uniquely target other girls, rather than spreading their venom to boys. Or perhaps boys are not as likely to react to psychological taunts so the girls get no satisfaction and turn back to taunting other girls. Either way, it seems girls, especially those with low self-esteem or little parental/familial support, can sink hard in the face of bullying.

Children and teens that come from homes where parents provide little emotional support for their children, fail to monitor their activities, or have little involvement in their lives, are at greater risk for engaging in bullying behavior. Parents’ discipline styles are also related to bullying behavior: an extremely permissive or excessively harsh approach to discipline can increase the risk of teenage bullying. 

Here again, the recurring theme that parents must be present in their kids lives presents itself firmly. We live in a society, and frankly an economy, that demands alot of working hours from parents. Almost 80% of American households run a “double-income” family where the luxury of one stay-at-home parent is out of reach. What can those parents do to stay connected to their kids’ lives? According to research discussed on families.com parents  should listen to their children, and spend as much time with them as possible.

Research has shown no discernible adverse effects of a working mother on children. However, in a dual income family… work responsibilities can all too easily overwhelm family obligations. Make sure your children get the quality time that they deserve with you and your spouse. Take your children on vacation with you, and focus on family fun. Take care to address any concerns your children may have regarding the time you spend at work. The most important thing is to make sure your kids know that you are there for them, no matter the work situation.


I recently had a discussion with a friend who also runs a dual-income household. She suggested that as a society we need to come together around some core values that will improve the quality of our collective lives and provide parents with the ability to stay more connected with their children. She observed that “parents work such long hard hours and their kids are without supervision, without adequate education and without role models and without hope”. Her thoughts were that we need more education and a mechanism by which to reach out to kids and get them out of troublesome circumstances. Along with education and awareness and an ability to allow parents, perhaps through better work-place benefits, to spend more time with their kids we could make troublesome conduct less desireable and in time, less common. I think she’s right.

Regulations may be cumbersome to implement and easy to circumvent. But a culture of caring about kids and helping them when they are in need, without having a law or an ordinance to guide us through the humane process of assistance, shouldn’t be too hard to implement. Just lift your head up and see the need around you. Care enough to then lift a hand and help. That doesn’t need a statute. It needs common sense.


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