How To Tackle 'Mean Girls' Bullying

How To Tackle 'Mean Girls' Bullying

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Mean Girls behaviours (or to use its correct name, Relational Aggression) is a common form of bullying where the group turns on one of its own members. It's emotionally damaging and it doesn't just affect girls - boys can be victims too.

In this episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we explore exactly what relational aggression is - and how to tackle this problem in schools.

This episode is sponsored by Team Satchel.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

This episode has been sponsored by our friends at Team Satchel, head to the episode description to find out more about their special discount on all of their behaviour management tools.

Emma Shackleton  0:10  

Children might be aware of what's going on, but they are often too frightened to say or do anything as their big fear is that the bully might turn on them and they might be excluded and ostracised from the group. And for children and teenagers in particular, it's absolutely crucial that they feel included and part of the group. So this is why it's so important as teachers and adults in schools to be super vigilant.

Simon Currigan  0:40  

 Hi there. Welcome to Episode 27 of school behaviour secrets. My name is Simon Currigan. And we are recording exclusively from behaviour towers. I'd offer you the scones. But uncle Alfred made them and let's just say some of his ingredients are non traditional. I'm here with my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:37  

Hi there

Simon Currigan  1:38  

ever. Before we get on to the topic of this week's podcast, I've got a question I am bursting to ask you.

Emma Shackleton  1:45  

I can't wait. Go on.

Simon Currigan  1:46  

Okay, this time it's a hypothetical morality question. You're in the staff room. And you hear someone gossiping about a colleague who isn't there putting them down? What do you do?

Emma Shackleton  1:56  

That's a tough one. And it really depends on the context. I guess what I like to think I do is join the conversation with something in defence of the absent person. So maybe say something like, well, there are always two sides to every story. Or we can never really understand why people do things until we've walked in their shoes. But where are you going with this questioning Simon?

Simon Currigan  2:21  

It's just a vetting check. I like to run on people I know. And did I pass? I'll give you formal feedback later. The real reason I asked is because today's show is all about relational aggression. Or as you may have heard it described mean girl syndrome based on the film of the same name by Tina Fey.

Emma Shackleton  2:38  

But before we jump into exactly what relational aggression is, and how it impacts on your students, I've got a quick favour to ask. If you know a colleague or friend who would find this episode useful. Open your podcast app now and please share it with them so that they can get the help they need to support their students to be a good friend.

Simon Currigan  3:00  

So let's tailor ourselves a suit made entirely of apple slices. Stay with me on this one. Use it to attract a friendly fruit bat and then use its powers to echolocate our way back to that squeaking weather cave we call behaviour. Disclaimer, no fruit bats were harmed during the making of this episode.

Emma Shackleton  3:18  

Okay, so let's kick off by talking about what do we mean by mean girl behaviours.

Simon Currigan  3:24  

So Mean Girls is a term that's been developed to describe a whole range of undesirable behaviours that children do to each other. It's also known as peer abuse or relational aggression. And relational aggression is a good way of thinking about this. It means to use our relationships as a form of aggression. The term relational aggression was developed in the early 90s by Dr. Nikki Couric, she defines relational aggression as emotional violence and bullying behaviours focused on damaging an individual's social connections within the peer group. What does that mean unpacking that a little bit, it's about the group returning in on one of its members, and using their relationships and power dynamics to diminish one of the members of the group as a form of bullying as a form of aggression. This is often classified as a non physical form of bullying, such as emotional bullying. And it's also referred to as the mean girl phenomenon. If you've seen the film of the same name Mean Girls, it's about a group of girls that use their relationships to kind of raise their own status and pushed down and hurts one of the members of the group.

Emma Shackleton  4:33  

So the first thing we need to know is is it only girls that engage in this type of anti social behaviour? And the answer is no. Although these particular behaviours, which we're going to describe a bit more in a moment are more likely to be carried out by girls than boys. Studies show that sometimes boys are perpetrators and victims of relational aggression too, so it's not excluded souffle about girls

Simon Currigan  5:01  

is relational aggression only ever one on one again, no. Usually there'll be a ringleader the perpetrator, and there will be a target who is the victim. And then the perpetrator will often try to recruit others in their social network to be on their side, meaning that sometimes it's a group of children acting against one other child, but there is usually one key perpetrator that's orchestrating the relational aggression.

Team Satchel  5:30  

That's actual we believe that parents should be involved in their child's school life as much as possible, especially when it comes to positive behaviour news. When teachers award students with positive praise on sexual behaviour pro parents are notified by their dedicated parent app so they're kept informed and can show their child support when they're home from school, visit or call us on 02071979550 choose option one and quote behaviour podcast for 20% off.

Emma Shackleton  6:02  

So what exactly do mean girl behaviours look like? Well, the driving force behind relational aggression tends to be for one pupil to try to undermine another's social standing within the group. And this can be done in a number of ways, for example, gossiping, breaking confidence and spreading rumours about someone. By doing this, the perpetrator attempts to undermine the victim's social standing, often by exaggerating or making up an incident and then spreading that rumour as far as possible amongst their peers. Sometimes perpetrators will break a friend's trust and share with others a secret or significant piece of information that they have been told in confidence.

Simon Currigan  6:46  

Another common ploy is to put victims down in the form of name calling, dirty looks or laughing or pointing at the victim. This can be done covertly, this is something that adults might often miss in the classroom because they're so busy keeping all those balls in the air, meaning that this form of aggression goes under the radar because the adult is so busy in the classroom, it's really hard to spot then that makes it even harder for the victim to get support that might also make firm or humiliate the victim especially in front of others than what teach them about how they look how they speak, or how they act.

Emma Shackleton  7:20  

And typically the perpetrator will seek to socially exclude the victim from groups. So they might do this by intentionally leaving someone out from the group for example, making a plan or deliberately excluding them having in jokes that are not shared with the victim playdate, sleep overs, parties or meet-ups all arranged without the victim and then usually publicise to him or her at a later date. So the victim finds out that they have intentionally been left out. This is known as ostracising, where the perpetrator will deliberately manipulate others within that social situation with the sole intention of cutting off that victim from the group.

Simon Currigan  8:06  

Frequently peer on peer abuse grows from one to one, as the perpetrator will try to recruit others and turn others against the victim more recently, as well. In the age of modern technology. This problem has been exacerbated by children's use of social media. And now students have round the clock access to their friends by mobile phones and computers, meaning sadly that bullies can have around the clock access to their victims with no letter

Emma Shackleton  8:35  

when I was at school, at the end of the day, everybody went home. And that was it until the next day. These days, however, children are able to be in constant contact with their friends, and unfortunately, with their enemies.

Simon Currigan  8:49  

And when you think about it here, the big difference between traditional bullying and relational aggression is that traditional bullying is done to someone outside the friendship group. So a group would bully a child who is not from their own circle of friends, it's done to the outsider with relational aggression or mingle behaviours. The victim often reports that the perpetrator used to be their best friend or someone that were very close to their own social network is turning in on them. And if we think about what this means, who do we go to, when we're experiencing a difficult situation or stress or someone's unkind to us, we go to our social network for support to talk about our problems. But here that's being denied to the student because it's their own social network turning in on them.

Emma Shackleton  9:32  

So let's think about more of the reasons why this happens, and who typically might get involved? Well, research has shown that relational aggression occurs most commonly with tweens and teenagers, so children in those 11 1213 age groups up to around 19. However, children as young as three have been identified as targeting other children, especially those with insecurely attached Moments who tend to take out their feelings on others, or those who lack key social interaction skills. So sometimes because of their own insecure attachments with their caregivers, those children are ill equipped for social interactions, and they become the perpetrators of this type of peer on peer abuse.

Simon Currigan  10:20  

And relational aggression is not just confined to the playground, it affects adults, when you think about workplace bullying. Often it involves adults because of conspiring with several other colleagues against one person within the social group. It is more common in school amongst girls as we've already identified, but that's not exclusively true. This can be prevalent amongst boys too, especially with social media. So basically, anyone and everyone of any age can be affected by relational aggression. Now, let's think about how the mean girl behaviours impact upon other individuals. So we started to touch on the idea that the victim is cut off from their support system. And this can be confusing for children who are one minute in a social group. And the next minute, they're turned on by one or more members of the group. This is particularly troublesome for teenagers, because when you reach your teens, there are parts of your brain that become active around social interaction. And it's been shown that that part of your brain has a much larger emotional reaction to the way you get on socially than you do as you reach your adult years. It's partly because you're becoming more aware of social interactions. So things that happen to you like relational aggression are going to have a huge impact on you. Whereas as you get older, you kind of get used to you get habituated to social interaction, so you have less emotional attachment to it. And this can be devastating for teenagers because the people that they need support from the people that are looking to actually inflicting the aggression on them or standing by on watching it happen and not supporting them in the way they need. I just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in inner circle programme. The inner circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos, resources and behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole classroom, setting out your classroom environment for success. Resetting behaviour with tricky classes and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions step by step, just like Netflix, you can turn an inner circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract. Plus, you can now get your first seven days of inner circle for just one pound. Get the behaviour answers and you've been looking forward today with inner circle visit to and click on the inner circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information.

Emma Shackleton  13:17  

So let's think about how mean girl behaviours impact on the ethos in the classroom. While Simon's already mentioned this, but because the perpetrators are often performing these bullying behaviours quite subtly and slyly it's easy for them to slip under the radar, and it can be really hard for teachers to spot. So some children are quite adept at doing what can be perceived to be small things but repetitively, such as dirty looks, or not inviting other children or not including them and coercing other individuals to not invite them and not include them as well. But they can do this quite subtly. So the teachers don't notice what's happening, or the children might be aware of what's going on. But they are often too frightened to say or do anything as their big fear is that the bully might turn on them and they might be excluded and ostracised from the group. And as Simon said, for children and teenagers in particular, it's absolutely crucial that they feel included in part of a group. So many teenagers won't want to risk their own social standing to stand up for or speak out for somebody else. We know this is commonly known as the bystander effect. So this is why it's so important as teachers and adults in schools to be super vigilant and try to pick up on those subtle things that might be bubbling away under the surface. And also that we create an ethos in school where it's seen as a strength for children to whistle blow and adults will be trusted to deal with incidents appropriately and the facts Simply.

Simon Currigan  15:00  

So why do bullies engage in relational aggression? Why do they do it? The truth is, everyone's an individual. And there are a whole host of possible reasons why a bully will engage in relational aggression. And that's usually will often about an underlying need in the perpetrator, rather than the victim. Often, the perpetrator will be seeking status or control. And that might be something to do with their home setting, the way they sort of interact with their family, there might be something about them that feels like they're not good enough, they might have issues around self esteem that makes them feel like they need to increase their status in the group, or control other members of the group because their difficulties with social understanding. And of course, one way of increasing your status in the group is to push down someone else and make yourself look bigger, because you're making them appear smaller. There might also be issues around jealousy, there might be something about the child that they're bullying, that ironically, they would like to emulate for themselves, there might be some qualities, there might be good at certain academic studies, they might be good at sports, that secretly, the perpetrator would like to have themselves that the victim already possesses. And of course, they might have adult role models in their lives who bully or belittle others, they might be just following the pattern that they've learned from their mothers or fathers or older siblings. We learn a lot from the adults around us in our early development, about how to get what we want, and how to manage social interactions successfully, and that successfully in inverted commas, so they're just repeating the patterns that they've learned elsewhere. And let's not forget the influence of social media, where we live in a world at the moment with talent shows where people are brought out to be laughed at because they're not very good at things where everyone shouts at each other and puts each other down. It's not about listening to the other person that understanding differences anymore. It's all about who can shout the loudest and belittle the other person. It's a toxic environment.

Emma Shackleton  17:03  

So to summarise what we've talked about today, then we've learned that peer on peer abuse can happen in any school, both boys and girls can be involved. Children and adults of all ages can be perpetrators and can be victims non physical aggression can be just as damaging as physical aggression. And actually, there are a whole host of reasons why somebody might choose to become a bully. If you want to get a comprehensive framework for developing behaviour plans and interventions, we've got a completely free download called the graduated sdmh framework that you'll find really useful.

Simon Currigan  17:42  

That's going to do four things for you. It's going to give you all the behaviour plans and risk assessments, you need to make sure you're approaching behaviour issues in the right way. By focusing on causes and tackling those, it's going to give you clarity on what behaviours you need to focus on what strategies you're going to use, and how you're going to measure your success is going to help you organise your approach. So you're approaching those needs in a graduated way. So you will be using the best practice plan do review approach, and it's going to help you collect evidence to prove you've acted in that graduated proportional way, which is really important if you're in the UK and your pupil may need an ehcp assessment for their smh your behaviour needs. This framework also includes a video guiding you through the process, and it's completely free. I'll put a direct link in the show description where you can download it by going to dot clicking on the free resources buttons and scrolling down to the free a graduated smh framework near the top

Emma Shackleton  18:47  

next week, we're going to be talking with James ottley, Project Coordinator for children heard and seen, which is a charity that supports children and families that have been impacted by parental imprisonment. Children heard and seen are one of the only charities in the country that offer support to children with a parent in prison in their local community.

Simon Currigan  19:09  

That is a really important lesson. It's a really big issue that gets overlooked. So don't leave hearing that interview to chance. Now, you've got two ways forward from here to listen to that automatically. You could leave an offering to the podcast Gods imploring them to deliver that interview directly to your phone through the spiritual projection. And you're going to need something impressive for that offering. So I suggest lining up grapes and sweetmeats on the back of a compliant squirrel that you bribed with the promise of some particularly tasty conquers. Or they could open your podcast app and hit the subscribe button on Apple podcasts. This is now called the Follow button. And then your podcast app will automatically download the interview for you without you even having to think about it. Both work the past Got your access to compliant squirrels? To give you some idea. I'm 47 years old, and I'm really proud of that sentence.

Emma Shackleton  20:07  

And don't forget, if you've missed any of the previous podcasts in the series, where have you been? We've missed you. You can go back at any time and listen to all of our other episodes to hear more of the good stuff. Finally, we really hope you find today's episode useful. If you have, do yourself a favour, find a friend and share this episode with them. And that means that other teachers or school leaders can find out about the show and start getting the help that they need to support the children in their schools too. So please do help us spread the word.

Simon Currigan  20:41  

Thanks for listening to this episode of school behaviour secrets. Have a great week and we look forward to see you in the next episode. Bye

Emma Shackleton  20:49  

bye for now.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)