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!
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.