MOUNT VERNON — Girls always seem to travel in packs. They go to the restroom together, they huddle together in cafeterias, sporting events and, yes, at the mall. But when girls bully one another, it’s vicious and ruthless and harder to lessen than traditional boy bullying, Jim Bisenius said Thursday night.
Bisenius, a child and adolescent therapist, talked with a small group of concerned parents and administrators at Mount Vernon Middle School regarding bullying. Topics included what makes a bully, how they think and what victims can do to shut down the process.
“Groups operate the same for boys and girls,” he said. “Girls are just under the radar more. It’s more anonymous and control driven. Boys are more direct.”
According to Bisenius, groups of girls are often infiltrated by a bully. When that happens, there is one leader and a lead bully. When the leader is absent from the group dynamic, the other girls will try to impress the bully, who Bisenius refers to as “Mildew,” by bullying another girl in the group. Later, he said, the girl will apologize but Mildew will remain silent.
To continue her role as a bully, Mildew will work on a girl outside the circle, perhaps a loner.
“She will be ruthless to the girl outside the group once a week. Just enough to keep others afraid of her,” he said. “She will only pick on the kids that don’t matter.”
Once that pattern has been established, Mildew will work the group with a divide and conquer attitude.
“If one of the girls gets too close to Lisa, the leader, or likes the same boy she does, Mildew will spread rumors to other girls saying Suzy said something about Lisa,” he said.
When this happens, Bisenius said, Mildew will swoop in as a hero and proclaim that no one will talk about her friend like that. The supposed source of the rumor, Suzy, will then be shunned by the group for a period of time.
“Suzy,” he said, “has no idea that anything is wrong. Mildew just likes to watch Suzy’s face when she doesn’t know why she’s not part of the group.”
This is just one of the many ways girl bullies operate within a group. While social bullying, as this is referred to, is far less stoppable than verbal or physical bullying, it can be quelled, Bisenius said. There are two protocols that can be followed.
The first is simple distraction. If Mildew tries to attack one of the group, another member, other than the leader, can step in to change the subject and distract Mildew from her task at hand. The leader can also step in to call off the act.
The second option is what Bisenius referred to as a nuclear option. When the leader is not around, Mildew will go after one of the girls. Typically, the rest of the followers from the group will back up Mildew. When this happens, he encourages the girls to make “secret” contact with the victim and apologize and reinforce the fact that they are still friends.
“Anytime there is a betrayal, you should make that call,” he said. “I wouldn’t suggest to plot to do this, but once it starts happening, it will spread to the other girls.”
One of the amazing outcomes Bisenius said he has seen as a result of this practice is a stronger bond between the girls that practice the “secret” calls. This bond then creates a wave that Mildew can’t ride.
“There is no risk to the secret call,” he said. “The victims can wait out a quarantine if they know you are still their friend.”
It is this call, he said, that really gets the ball rolling to reduce the occurrence of social bullying. Once the bully begins to see that her tactics no longer work, her behavior within the group will change.
Bisenius reminded parents that it is the children who need to implement this procedure. Interference from parents, he said, will do nothing but make the situation worse.