Relational bullying. It hurts just as much, if not more, than outright physical bullying. Getting shoved into the lockers every day hurts. Getting excluded from a group who were your “friends” the day before, being gossiped about, having rumors started, not being chosen for PE class or allowed to take part in the group you were put in for a project, those are the daggers that really go deep. Those actions say “You’re not good enough. You don’t belong.” Belonging is a strong need of all humans. Through connection with others, we thrive and flourish. When we are excluded or isolated, we wither inside. Relational bullying breeds an ugly cycle because we know that hurting people hurt others, and so the one who was excluded may then seek to exclude. The one who was ignored may begin to ignore others. When these hurtful behaviors are allowed to be the norm in our homes and classrooms, it spreads like a cancer, eating away at the self-worth of those it touches.
As I was looking into this topic, I kept coming across the term “mean girls.” Lisa McCrohan writes a wonderful article about Raising Girls Who are Includers Instead of Mean Girls, Deborah Song writes How to Handle Mean Girls, and Whitney Fleming writes for the Huffington Post about Raising Includers in which she discusses a scenario involving girls. I know this is a big problem for girls and I remember dealing with these issues beginning in elementary school and even in the workplace as an adult. Yet, I caution against believing this is a problem that only affects girls. As a mother to boys only, I can attest that relational bullying touches them too, and it hurts them just as much. I’ve held my sons through tears from being ignored, left out, and left confused by boys who are friendly one day and mean the next. It’s heartbreaking for any parent to know their child is hurt.
The Ophelia Project is a national nonprofit aiming to stop relational aggression. The results of their studies show that girls report relational aggression more often than boys, but I have to wonder if their boys are just keeping silent. After all, aren’t they still supposed to be “tough” and “not be a crybaby about it?” They report that 48% of students have experienced relational bullying. Nearly half of our children are being emotionally bullied at school. We have to address this, and it starts at home, sure, but schools need to work toward a solution as well.