Saturday, November 26, 2005

Educators see more aggressive behavior among female students

No more "sugar and spice"

There used to be a time when girls fought with words, over words. Those times, educators say, have changed. When girls are aggressive, fights don't always escalate to physical violence. However, when girls do fight physically, their fights are often worse than disputes between their male peers.

Northwood (MD) High School Principal Henry Johnson has seen this phenomenon first-hand. When boys fight, Johnson says, they tend to ‘‘get a few licks in," then they are pulled away from each other by friends or administrators. Afterwards, they get over it. But when girls fight, it often takes greater measures to break up the dispute, and the young women often carry a grudge for days or weeks after, Johnson observed. ‘‘They don't let it drop as much as boys do."

Youths with low self-esteem sometimes may find it harder to walk away from conflict, Meredith Hooker writes in a report. Girls with higher self-esteem are less likely to engage in bullying and aggressive behavior, Johnson said. She adds that girls who do bully tend to gravitate toward each other.

Read Hooker's story on Gazette.Net, entitled the Not 'sugar and spice' any more.

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Malik said...

That's interesting. As I reflect on it, I don't remember a time when girls weren't more vicious to each other than guys were. I'm not sure that's anything new. I don't know why that is though. It's easy to make generalities, but maybe it's just because guys are programmed for aggression and when it's released, it's done. If I got my butt whupped in school, I was likely to be laughing about it with the guy I fought with by the time we got to the Principal's office. I don't know, I can only speculate.

DCS said...

Malik, you are right. Guys fight and get over it. With girls, it's a different story.

Even though I'm female, most of my best friends tend to be guys. I think that I realized even in high school that I wasn't into the viciousness and cattiness that many females are into.

I grew up as the only girl in my family. My youngest child is the only girl, and I have learned a lot about young females in raising her. I do think girls as a group are meaner than they used to be.

Research seems to bear out that girls are just as capable as being bullies as boys. The aggression may just take on different characteristics. However, the end result is the same.

Many schools are now addressing aggressive behavior by girls. Character education and strong school safety programs are two ways in which schools are tackling this problem. Since federal laws such as the Safe Schools Act and No Child Left Behind address school violence, many educators have stepped up efforts to eliminate aggressive behaviors.

Studies by Northwest Regional Education Laboratory (NWREL) reveal that girls tend to bully in groups. Last year, I made the decision to pull my daughter out of a high school, in part, because she experienced an entire year of bullying by a large group of girls. These girls had developed a mob mentality. I call it "mean girl syndrome." It got to the point that my daughter was being harassed by people whose names she didn't even know.

Even though I worked with the school guidance counselor and principals to put a stop to this, my daughter had a miserable experience. The stress caused her to lose weight. She had numerous girls threatening her. She didn't want to "tell" because she thought it would make matters worse. And she had principals reminding her of the zero tolerance policy toward fighting.

My daughter finished out the school year in the alternative school because she finally snapped and got into a fight. My child is 5'2" and a size 3. It took two male principals to restrain her. I was a very frustrated mom.

I am reminded of the 2003 hazing incident in Glenbrook, IL. It involved an affluent high school just outside of Chicago. The incident happened at a powder-puff football game between junior and senior girls. The juniors were forced to sit huddled on the ground while seniors tortured them — dousing them in feces, urine, toxic paint, pig intestines, fish guts and blood.

This incident received national news coverage. If you didn't hear about it, or need your memory refreshed, click here.

Someone videotaped what happened and the pictures made national news. The video was disturbing enough. But what was equally horrifying to me were some of the comments that some girls made afterwards. They said they didn't understand why everyone was making such a big deal of this incident. One girl sneered, "So what if a girl gets her head cracked open?"

I studied this particular case from two perspectives - as someone who worked in character education and as a media practitioner. In fact, I worked with a TV reporter in St. Louis on this issue. It resulted in a "Cover Story" report.

Here are some resources for folks who may want to read more about aggressive behavior among girls:

Girls Bullying Girls

When Girls Are Bullies

Bullying girls who make lives a misery

Have you experienced or witnessed aggressive behavior by girls? If so, please share your story.

Jaimie said...

dcs: while reading your comment i was reminded of my own high school experience with girls.
i am not a fighter, but i was harrassed constantly and threatened too. to this day i don't quite understand it, but according to others "they were just jealous." well, "they" made me miserable my first few years of high school. i felt so uncomfortable.
girls are very mean. i worry for my own daughter. i can't even imagine how it will be by the time she's in high school.
you're a good mom to support your daughter the way that you have. actually, you've inspired me to write about this experience on my blog. thanks! hope you had a good holiday!

DCS said...

Jaimie, thank you for sharing your experience. I strongly believe that jealously was at the root of what my daughter experienced. My daughter tried to resolve issues with these girls on her own, but her efforts were met with even more hostility.

Like you, my daughter is not a fighter. She had never been in a fight until she snapped. I told school officials that I think it was to her credit that she took so much harassment for so long. She managed to keep her grades up. But it's hard seeing your child miserable.

My daughter is much happier at her current school. She no longer has to deal with the drama. But you know what? The kids at her old school are still talking about her. My daughter knows this because a couple of girls have had the audacity to call our house! Amazing.

I look forward to seeing how you recall some of your experiences on your blog. I have encouraged my daughter to write about her own experiences. Perhaps she will one day.

Your daughter has a good mom who will always protect her. If I were you, I wouldn't worry. I am sure she will be just fine because you will prepare her to handle anything.

I don't think I'll ever understand why some girls are so mean. The same goes for my daughter. It is simply beyond our comprehension.

Malik said...

I wonder if a big part of it is shallowness and insecurity on the part of parents. It seems to me that girls whose parents place a lot of emphasis on fashion and attractiveness and comparing and criticizing people's appearance, indulge in this sort of thing more often. The description of the dynamics of girls bullying girls that was on the website you linked to was really interesting. I thought the observation that the ringleaders are often well-respected by adults (read: brown-nosing con-artists) was spot on. That's why it's so important that we as adults keep our BS detectors finely tuned, and that means not falling our own BS. I'm sure that in your character education classes you emphasize sincerity and integrity, and I think that's where it all begins. When our kids see us smiling in someone's face and then tearing them down behind closed doors, that's where conniving and cattiness starts. On the other hand, when we instill in our kids a sense of self-worth based on character and conduct, they tend to be less vulnerable to emotional manipulation, and they're more likely to avoid crowds that engage in that kind of behavior in the first place.

DCS said...

Malik, I think you make a very valid point when it comes to the parents. Children model the behaviors they learn at home. And you are so right about adults having their BS detectors finely tuned!

As you mention, character education teaches values, such as integrity, respect, caring and responsbility. When it is effectively intergrated into the curriculum - as a collaborative effort of school, home and community - schools see fewer instances of discipline problems. Instead, they see students with higher self-esteem. This makes for an environment more conducive to learning. As a result, educators also report improved student performance.

Reading your comments also made me think about what I've heard kids say about adults. Kids know when teachers and parents respect them and when they don't.

In addition, I have heard teachers say that when they start teaching character education, it makes them think about their own behavior - how they treat the students and their peers.

Malik, I may draft you and Jaimie as my consultants on this topic! Thanks for such well-articulated comments.

Ms. Maybelline said...

this is great...I have a forum over on called "teachable moments." I will be sure to link it up to your blog. good information.

DCS said...

Ms. Maybelline, welcome! Feel free to visit at any time. I will link to you as well.
For readers who would like to check out Ms. Maybelline's forum, go to Teachable Moments.

NewYorkMoments said...

Wow...I'm in the process of writing an Article for Baggage Reclaim about how women treat each other... I know that people see me as the resident blog misandrist, but recently, I've been shocked and sickened by my own gender...

NewYorkMoments said...

Hey DCS, Can I add a link?

Deb Sistrunk said...

Sure, NYM! I was about to ask you the same. Just count me as another one of your fans. By the way, I'll be looking forward to reading that story on baggage claims.