Social, Relational, and Emotional Bullying

Social bullying happens when a child is humiliated or demeaned in front of her peers. This happens more frequently among girls, and can be devastating to a child's self-esteem due to the public nature of the torments.

A target of social bullying may hear giggling as she walks by or everyone might get up and leave as she sits down. These actions are hurtful because the single biggest fear for a tween or teen is to not be liked, to not fit in.

Here are a few common ways girls carry out social bullying:

  • Pinning a note on a girl's back that says “I'm a loser” to publicly embarrass her.

  • The popular girls will call an unpopular girl over to their lunch table just to tell her (loudly) that she should go on a diet because she's too fat.

  • Passing a note around class that says “Molly has cooties — stay away from her!”

  • Telling a quiet, shy girl that the school jock wants to go out with her — when he doesn't.

All of these actions are meant to humiliate the girl in front of her peers, in a public forum. Being publicly embarrassed and ostracized is one of the worst types of bullying — simply because everyone is there to witness it. And when no one sticks up for the bullied girl or defends her, she feels utterly and completely alone. Over time, she may begin to believe that she is a loser, that she is fat, that she is unclean, or that she is unlovable.

There are two kinds of social bullying: nonverbal and psychological. Nonverbal social bullying is when kids point, stare, laugh, make faces, roll their eyes, make the loser sign with their hand, or stick up their middle finger. A child can be singled out and ridiculed without a single word being spoken.

Psychological social bullying is when kids exclude, isolate, shun, ostracize, ignore, or turn their back on someone. To spend the majority of your day in a classroom with 20 kids who pretend you don't exist can be torture to a young person. Think of this type of abuse as the silent treatment on steroids.

Fact

A recent Families and Work Institute study reports that two-thirds of young people reported having been the victim of mean-spirited teasing or gossiping at least once in the past month, and one-quarter have had it happen five or more times.

Relational Bullying

Relational bullying entails intentionally damaging the social status of the victim. All kids, especially girls, want and need to have friends; a relational bully will do everything in her power to undermine this.

Here are a few examples of what a relational bully will do to bully her victim:

  • Tell other kids to stop being friends with her

  • Give her the silent treatment and encourage others to do the same

  • Spread untrue rumors about her with the intent of getting others to reject her

  • Invite all the girls from the class to a party — except her

  • Allow only “the chosen” girls to sit at the popular lunch table

Studies have consistently shown that girls place great value and significance on their relationships. Having friends and being able to share the ups and downs of the tumultuous preteen and teen years is vital to a young female's healthy emotional development.

Girls yearn to have positive and close relationships with other girls their own age. A girl wants to giggle and dream and dissect every fascinating thing that happened to her during the school day. She wants to have someone to sit with, to play at recess with, to sit on the bus with, to have sleepovers with, and she wants someone who “gets” her; someone who understands everything she's going through because she's going through it, too! Girls want friends. One friend is good, several friends are even better.

Alert!

Researchers at the Families and Work Institute asked a nationally representative group of 1,001 fifth through twelfth graders what one change they thought would help stop the violence young people experience today. The majority of kids reported that emotional violence was very real to them, and that it seemed to trigger more extreme types of violence.

A relational bully often has the sophistication and interpersonal skills needed to fracture another girl's relationships and turn her, over time, into a social outcast. The bully will convince her peers (through any means she can) to exclude or reject a particular girl. This can have a devastating effect because the rejection comes at a crucial time, when making and strengthening social connections is an important developmental task.

Relational bullying is hard to detect because it's not as obvious as some of the other types of bullying. It's subtle and sophisticated, and it's often done out of earshot of the adults. It can be hard for the victim to prove she's being mistreated. The bully (who is often popular and in high social standing) will simply feign innocence and say, “She must have misunderstood. I would never do such a thing!” If the bully has successfully concealed her vicious and hateful behavior, most teachers and parents will have a hard time believing that such a sweet girl would do such a mean thing.

The Emotional Bully

The emotional bully uses manipulation to get what she wants. Here's how:

  • “You can't be my friend if you're friends with so and so.”

  • “If you want to be my friend, you will invite me, not Amy, to sleep over.”

  • “If you were my friend, you would do it.”

  • “I'll tell everyone all your secrets if you don't stay friends with me.”

The emotional bully demands exclusivity and isolates her victim from her entire peer group. She gets jealous when the victim pays attention to anyone else, and will use emotional blackmail to continue to control her.

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