Intense friendships - BFF

Girls’ friendships can be so intense – their lives seem to depend on  social support from their BFF – best friend forever. They confide more in their friends than boys do and this sharing of confidences is seen as a way of cementing friendship. But it means when girls fall out – their former friends know lots of painful, personal things about them, their dreams and who they fancy, their fears and weaknesses. Plenty to exploit when they form different friends. This feels like a betrayal by the one  who is left and is doubly hurtful. A girl can feel isolated, humiliated and worthless. Her pain is real and should never be dismissed as ‘being silly’ or  ‘you’re imagining it’.

Bullying involving girls

Targeted by boys and girls

While girls suffer bullying from boys, they are also likely to experience being victimised by other girls. This might be because they are working hard and keen on doing well, it might be through jealousy, or simply because a powerful girl (often referred to as the Queen Bee) feels that this person is a suitable target, unlikely to fight back and easy to taunt. Bullying can take all the regular forms, verbal insults, name-calling, shoving and physical pushing, damaging their belongings, and getting them into trouble. But it can also show up in unique forms discussed below.  Girls are also targeted for their race, religion or culture when it is easy to see, such as wearing a hijab or a cross.

Like the end of the world

Girls who are bullied  have often lost their former best friend, the source of their emotional support in school. They need help to re-build their confidence or even to come to school and may need to be guided into clubs or lunchtime activities to make  new friends. Some say they don’t know why they were bullied, their tormentor just suddenly picked on them ‘because they can’. Bullying makes people feel powerless, so when intervening it is vital to encourage decision-making by  victims. Help them see they  have options and let them say what they want to happen while making it clear they will be supported.

What should be done?

Peer support, acting out responses to scenarios, gaining skills or a new hobby, support at home from parents – everything needs to  be deployed to turn things around and fast. This is because the longer the situation continues, the more entrenched it can become. Work with the perpetrators should not obscure the need for work with  the targeted girl. Younger children can be guided into new friendships more easily than teens, but a good choice of lunchtime activities or clubs can make a breakthrough. In any event the girl is no longer alone and easily picked off by the bullies. Avoid putting the targeted girl in another class unless she is keen, it is hard to make friends all over again and it is more useful to move the perpetrator. Work individually with the girls who support the leader. Try and elicit empathy from them and wean them off this behaviour. Other girls in this class may fear that they may  be targeted next – this can lead them to turn a blind eye or to become fearful or guilt ridden as they did not intervene. Groupwork can be very successful without naming anyone. Get the group to express their dislike of this  behaviour so that everyone realises most of the students don’t support this. TEN TOP TIPS ON DEALING WITH BULLYING AMONG GIRLS.

Discussions on the EQUALITY ACT 2010 are useful- discrimination by gender is unlawful.

It may be necessary to remind students that so called Revenge Porn’ is also illegal.

Ways girls bully

Girls can bully one another in ways that are so subtle, a passing teacher may not even see it. We often call this Relational Aggression. They will gradually wean friends away from the targeted girl, leaving her  bewildered and isolated. At other times they might manipulate their followers to be cruel to a chosen victim. All the while, the leader is being hardworking and polite to teachers. The most common reason girls give for being bullied is ‘How I look’. This can be imagined or true but feels equally devastating.  Though it is often about size and body image, it is often about a look or fashion ‘tribe’ or the degree to which a girl is attractive to boys (or not). Girls can bully with an eye roll! By taunting someone about her size, a bully has only to look at the victim as she eats her lunch and then roll eyes along with her group of supporters to make the victim feel judged and found wanting. Challenging this behaviour means building self confidence among girls, encouraging people to be who they are – challenging conformity and exploring peer pressure, the impact of social media and role models who have stood against pressure to  be something different from their true self. Be very alert to girls visiting websites promoting anorexia, self-harm or even suicide.

Preventing bullying of girls

By creating an ethos of respect and empathy, bullying is less likely. But you will have to tackle issues of appearance and body image, jealousy in relationships and online etiquette. Young people need to explore what a safe relationship looks like, they have to be able to recognise if they are being manipulated by a partner or former friend, especially online and they need a new modern form of PSHE and relationships and sex education curriculum that teaches about emotions. Build a context in which being female is celebrated in all its diversity and try to challenge images seen only in gossip columns or of photo-shopped stars. At secondary level you may need to challenge the use of porn online. Artwork, history, literature and groupwork can change the way a girl sees herself.  Self-harm and anorexia are on the rise and girls need to be able to safely  manage emotions and know how to get help.

The government has renewed its strategy to TACKLE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS.
You might find some of this material contains inspiring and useful content. It addresses questions of consent, exploitation of girls by gangs and more. The UK works to implement UN Global Goals around women and girls and this could be a good focus for discussion or assignments to kick start debates about violence against girls.

1. Resources on consent and relationship abuse, Key stages 3,4 and 5.

2. Resources on sexting, consent, relationships and respect for older students from Disrespect Nobody. These are Key stage 4 resources.