December 2012
Issue No. 15

The Bullying Problem

We’re well into the school year, and a growing problem has adults, administrators, and students seriously concerned: bullying is on the rise. Sadly, you can’t read a newspaper or go online on any given day and not hear a story about youth bullying. Almost one-third of students report that they have been bullied at school, and six out of ten teens witness bullying at least once a day. The number of negative social and emotional repercussions of bullying is staggering and includes depression, social isolation, academic problems, delinquent behavior, and suicide.

Bullying prevention programs are needed now more than ever, especially in middle school and during other life transitions when new peer groups are being negotiated and established. Special attention should be given to new and complex forms of bullying like cyberbullying and relational aggression (a.k.a. “girl bullying”). Read here about the complex issue of bullying, and what’s needed from schools to combat it.

Researchers argue that successful anti-bullying programs incorporate the building of social and emotional skills such as handling challenges constructively, demonstrating concern for others, exercising empathy, recognizing and managing emotions, and making responsible decisions. Healthy social and emotional development is fundamental to a child’s overall health, ethical development, motivation to achieve, academic performance, and involvement in the community.

Research on Girls and Relationships

We know from research by the Girl Scout Research Institute that good relationships are central to the well-being of girls at all ages. Girls tell us that when they have close, trusted friendships they feel healthy and safe. Strong friendships tie into girls’ sense of self, and being well liked is paramount. The relationships girls develop, moreover, can affect their degree of personal success and their efforts to be productively engaged in the world.

One key barrier to girls’ leadership aspirations is fear of being made fun of or ridiculed; this is true for one-third of girls who are not interested in being a leader. Girls tend to downplay their positive attributes in their social media lives, such as their intelligence, kindness, and efforts to be a good influence. More than two-thirds of girls have had a negative experience on a social networking site, such as having someone gossip about them or being bullied. 

Reality TV also appears to highlight relational aggression, which is a concern for teens and girls who tune in regularly. The 15 Leadership Outcomes of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience include the development and maintenance of healthy relationships as one of the critical leadership skills girls need.

To learn more about the work of the Girl Scout Research Institute, click here.

Bullying Prevention Programs that Work

Successful bullying prevention programs are comprehensive, involve systematic changes to schools’ social environment, teach social and emotional skills, involve parents in healthy adult role-modeling, and address all parties involved in bullying—the aggressor, the victim, and the bystander. Click here for more on best practices in bullying prevention and intervention.

The Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois had great success combating bullying among middle school girls using the aMAZE! Leadership Journey for building positive relationships and conflict resolution. After experiencing the series, girls scored higher on the healthy relationships, sense of self, and conflict resolution metrics. Schools reported far fewer violent incidents by girls (a 58 percent decrease in overall incidents), including threats/reckless behavior and fighting/physical violence/bullying.

The Girl Scouts of Colorado combined POWER UP and the aMAZE! Leadership Journey to help girls develop healthy relationships and conflict resolution, bystander, and social-emotional skills, as well as to build parental awareness of the problems associated with bullying. In evaluations of 6th–12th-grade participants, 94 percent of girls learned ways to help someone who is being bullied.

Building Healthy Relationships at Girl Scouts of the USA

BFF (Be a Friend First)
In October, Girl Scouts of the USA launched an innovative bullying-prevention initiative for middle-school girls. BFF, which stands for “Be a Friend First,” is based on the popular aMAZE! Leadership Journey. Working with volunteers, girls learn relational and leadership skills to short-circuit bullying behavior and to prevent it from happening in the first place. BFF uses role playing, creative writing, and discussion exercises through which girls explore thorny issues like peer pressure, stereotyping, gossip, and cliques. As part of BFF, girls also create and lead projects in their schools and communities to tackle bullying issues. BFF can be easily integrated into existing health or character education classes, can serve as an after-school program, and can even be offered during a holiday break. Girl Scout councils across the country will be launching this important initiative in their communities this winter. Check out the BFF webpage, and stay tuned for more!

Reality TV
The GSRI Reality TV research study, Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV, highlights girls’ exposure to relational aggression and bad behavior among girls and women through Reality TV programming. The study highlighted the need for girls to have positive role models in the media who promote healthy relationships consisting of pro-social behavior and the ability to resolve conflicts. Girl Scouts of the USA is a proud member of the Healthy Media Commission for Positive Images of Women and Girls, which supports efforts to increase the number of female characters in the media and ensures that female roles, images, and portrayals are authentic, balanced and healthy. Since the release of the study in October 2011, it has been widely cited by journalists. Click here for more on Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV and the Healthy Media Commission.

Girl Scouts of the USA is using the occasion of its 100th anniversary to declare 2012 the Year of the Girl and launch ToGetHerThere: the largest, boldest advocacy and fundraising cause campaign dedicated to girls’ leadership issues in the nation’s history. This multiyear effort will help break down societal barriers that hinder girls from leading and achieving success in everything from technology and science to business and industry. Our long-term goal is ambitious and urgent: to create balanced leadership in one generation. To do that, we must ask all adult members of society—mothers, fathers, corporations, governments, and nonprofits—to help girls reach their leadership potential and place this urgent issue front and center on the national agenda. We all have a role to play in helping girls achieve their full leadership potential, because when girls succeed, so does society.


• Every 7 minutes a child is bullied.

• 6 out of 10 teens witness bullying once a day.

• 160,000 children miss school each day out of fear of being bullied.

• Bullying has been linked to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents.

• Almost 1/3 of students aged 12-18 reported that they were bullied at school.

A collection of bullying statistics can be found here.

Lately, a lot of attention has been given to the issue of bullying. Here is a short list of resources you can use to learn more about the bullying problem, and what is being done to address bullying at the local, state, and national level.
Provides information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.

National Bullying Prevention Center
Unites, engages, and educates kids, teens, parents, and communities nationwide to address bullying through creative, relevant, and interactive resources.

Cyberbullying Research Center
Presents research statistics, tips, prevention strategies, stories, fact sheets, handouts, and other downloadable references on combating cyberbullying.

National Crime Prevention Council
A non-profit educational group formed to address the causes of crime and violence and reduce the opportunities for crime to occur.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
A non-profit organization that works to advance the science- and evidence-based practice of social and emotional learning.

Teens Against Bullying
Created by and for teens, it's a place for middle and high school students to find ways to address bullying, to take action, to be heard, and to join an important cause.
Encourages young people to create their own vision for making a difference in their community and provides them with the resources and support they need.

The Bully Project
Bully is a 2011 documentary film about bullying in U.S. schools. Directed by Lee Hirsch, the film follows the lives of five students who face bullying on a daily basis.

The Character Education Partnership
An organization committed to instilling civic virtue and moral character in our youth for a more compassionate and responsible society.

The Girl Scout Research Institute, formed in 2000, is a vital extension of Girl Scouts of the USA. The GSRI conducts original research, evaluation, and outcomes measurement studies; releases critical facts and findings; and provides resources essential for the advancement of the well-being and safety of girls living in today's world. The GSRI also informs program, public policy, and advocacy for Girl Scouting.

Girl Scout Research Institute

Public Policy and Advocacy
Washington, DC office

Girl Scouts of the USA

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