UNIVERSITY PARK – According to experts, girls who are bullies tend to use more subtle tactics than their male counterparts but the emotional damage they inflict can be worse. To increase understanding of female bullying and provide guidelines for addressing it, Penn State Conferences and Institutes, a unit of Outreach, will offer a one-day conference titled “Girls Bullying Girls: What We Know and What We Can Do” on April 7 at the Nittany Lion Inn, University Park.
Bullying among America’s children has reached near-epidemic proportions. According to a survey by the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, “almost 30 percent of youth in the United States (or more than 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both.” Often, female bullying involves “under the radar” behaviors such as spreading gossip and rejecting or excluding of other girls. The rapid rise of communication technologies like cell phone text-messaging and online social networking sites like MySpace offer girls multiple platforms for mean and spiteful behavior that goes beyond teasing in hallways or the back of the school bus.
“Parents don’t realize allowing your daughter to go on MySpace is like dropping them off in New York City and saying, ‘Stay out of trouble,'” explained Cheryl Dellasega, professor of humanities and women’s studies at Penn State’s College of Medicine and author of Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying. Examples of electronic bullying Dellasega has encountered include vicious online postings; exclusion from blogs and buddy lists; fictitious “set-ups” with unsuspecting boys that are actually arranged by other girls; and instant messaging “flame wars,” in which a group of girls decides to “deluge the victim with a series of nasty IMs.”
Dellasega stated that on any given day, 5 percent of girls nationwide stay home from school due to relationship issues, including bullying. She also noted that studies have linked bullying with poor grades, depression, eating disorders, delinquency and even suicide.
The upcoming conference will include sessions on cyberbullying, mentoring between older girls and groups of younger girls, theatre techniques as a means to encourage respect among peers, the long-term mental health effects of bullying on girls and their families, and a panel of teenage girls discussing their own experiences. Registrations must be received by 5 p.m. April 2.