Just yesterday, your daughter was playing happily with her best friend. Now, she’s crying herself to sleep because the same friend said something mean to her.

Rather than hurting each other physically, girls tend to hurt each other with words and behaviors. This “emotional bullying” can include:

  • cruel comments or teasing
  • knowingly embarrassing someone else
  • spreading rumors
  • not including girls in social activities
  • not speaking to someone

You may expect this mean-girl behavior to start in middle or high school. However, parents are seeing emotional bullying as early as elementary school, partly because of social media and texting.

“Once upon a time, if my bully was at school, I could get away by going home,” says Jeffrey Rothweiler, PhD, child psychologist with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Those safe places are disappearing. The bully can follow you home and bully you on social media. That’s made emotional bullying even more powerful and dangerous.”

What Parents Can Do
“Parents and other adults need to take action against the behavior, not ignore it or justify what’s going on,” Dr. Rothweiler says. “The ‘so what’ mind-set, or the idea that girls just need to grow a thicker skin, can be very dangerous.”

Dr. Rothweiler recommends parents have total access to all of a child’s social media accounts to monitor what girls are saying about each other. This can help stop emotional bullying before it gets out of hand.

If your daughter has become the victim of a bully, come up with suggestions about how she can respond to the behaviors. Bring in school counselors, administrators and mental health professionals if needed.

If you notice your daughter is bullying other girls, let her know that behavior is unacceptable.

“One thing we don’t want is for those who see something to do nothing,” Dr. Rothweiler says. “If a child sees bullying, then she should help the victim and ask adults to help.”

Need help dealing with an emotional bully? Call the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Family Resource Center at 314.454.KIDS and press “5” to have information and resources on bullying sent to you.

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Expert Advice