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Bullying and Peer Acceptance
 
 
When you mention the word “bully” to different people, you tend to get a variety of images and reactions, but the most common image is the schoolyard bully, usually larger than other kids, and almost always male, perusing the halls and playgrounds, looking for his next victim. But the reality is that most bullies do not use physical threats. Bullies typically use acceptance/rejection as the means to intimidating or controlling others.
Very few experiences in adolescence can be as traumatizing as peer rejection, or as motivating as peer acceptance. Individuals and groups (consciously and subconsciously) use the threat of rejection or the allure of acceptance as the means to controlling behavior in others. These dynamics influence several examples of teenage destructive behaviors: drug and alcohol use, teenage pregnancy, self-mutilation, vandalism, racism, and of course, bullying.
What creates these behaviors is the exploitation of the acceptance/rejection phenomenon, but what maintains it is usually lack of awareness or insight. Most adolescents know how important these influences are, but rarely understand how to achieve social acceptance and minimize rejection without yielding to negative forces. It is not enough to tell a child that they shouldn’t worry about being popular when, for most kids, this is their main preoccupation.
Lack of insight, and typically lack of confidence and assertiveness, forces most children to get caught up in the popularity game as either bullies, victims, or bystanders. The unpredictable and capricious nature of adolescent group dynamics is enough to make any child feel confused, insecure or unsafe, thus perpetuating the preoccupation with who is popular and who isn’t.
In order to help adolescents cope, it is important to help them identify just how strong their need for peer acceptance is, and how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it, without judging them or automatically telling them that it is wrong. Instead, help guide them to reach their own healthy and realistic conclusions.
 
 
"Mean Girls" in Park Ridge???   
 
“Mean Girls" in Park Ridge
 
Recently, the media have highlighted a growing trend among adolescent females referred to as “relational aggression.”   Despite the recent increase in media attention, psychologists have been aware of this phenomenon for years.
Essentially, relational aggression refers to the subtle but powerful use of scorning, snubbing, rumor-mongering, threats, “back-stabbing” and sharing others’ secrets in order to control and often destroy a peer’s reputation and status.   It is an attempt to manipulate the dynamic interplay between inclusion and exclusion in peer group as a way to either gain popularity/status or undermine someone else’s.
For boys, aggression, bullying and intimidation manifests in visible, obvious ways. Physical threats, pushing, punching, and destruction of property are common. Altercations can often lead to bumps and bruises, and the physical scarring tends to outweigh the psychological scarring.
Girls, on the other hand, tend to express competition and aggression by attacking each other’s popularity and reputations. It is more difficult to see, and much more difficult to prevent. Psychologists feel that the more highly developed social skills in females directs them towards a social form of competition, while the emphasis on sports and strength propels boys toward a more physical forms of competition. We are quick to (justifiably) point out the brutality that is often associated with the outward examples of male violence, but the long term effects of being socially ostracized and having one’s reputation tarnished or destroyed can be devastating for some girls.
Although the manner is different, the reason that both boys and girls engage in their respective dynamics is the same: establishing and maintaining a reputation; asserting control over others; and, achieving a position and status within a social hierarchy. They should also be addressed in similar ways. Unfortunately, this is not so easy. School policy clearly prohibits the use of physical violence. A schoolyard fight that results in a bloody nose has clear school (and legal) consequences. However, there is no specific school policy to address a girl who single-handedly (or with the help of a few others) undermines another girl’s reputation, relationship with a boyfriend, or status within the group by spinning rumors, using subtle gestures, snubbing, or sharing another’s private information.
But it still can be addressed.    In school, if a girl’s behavior is not a violation of a specific school policy, it is still addressed by counselors, administrators and teachers. And more importantly, parents can help their children identify the ways in which others establish their status while potentially pulling down the status of others. The more this issue is discussed, the more likely girls will be to protect themselves and maintain respectful, healthy interactions among their peers.   
 
Movie recommendation
 
Recommended books
    
 
 
Useful links on bullying (click any icon)
  Chase Wilson Education
  What parents can do (NEA website) 
  Bullying information (Am. Psych. Assoc.)
  National Association of School Psychologists - Information for Parents
  Link to my Suggested Reading List (scroll down to Girls'/Boys' issues)
 
 
Last Updated: 5/21/12
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