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Bullying: What are the Differences between Boys and Girls?

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Jan 24, 2012

For over 50 years, researchers have been studying how boys and girls interact. Not surprisingly, they have found some differences. For the most part, boys and girls are more similar than they are different. A lot of girls enjoy playing computer games, and a lot of boys enjoy more friendship-centered activities. Researchers have found, however, that as a general group, boys spend more time with boys in physical activities such as sports and games; whereas girls tend to spend more of their time socializing with other girls in more friendship-based activities (for example, talking with other girls) (1, 2, 3). So it is not surprising that boys and girls tend to bully and be bullied differently. One of the most consistent research findings is that boys are more likely to both bully and be bullied than are girls (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Also, boys and girls experience different types of bullying behaviors.

Bullying is defined as a form of aggression that is repetitively exerted against an individual who feels unable to defend him/herself (10). This aggression may occur directly against someone in a physical (for example, slapping, pushing) or verbal (for example, swearing, name calling) manner. Bullying can also be indirect whereby the targeted person experiences the aggression through others (for example, gossiped about, excluded from a social activity).

How are Girls Involved in Bullying?

Through Peer Group

Girls tend to bully other girls indirectly through the peer group. Rather than bully a targeted child directly, girls more often share with other girls (and boys) hurtful information about the targeted child (4). For example, a girl may tell a group of girls an embarrassing story about another girl. They may create mean names, gossip, and come up with ways of letting the girl know that she is rejected from the peer group (for example, saying mean things about her on social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace, using her email address to send harassing messages to everyone on her email list, texting her a death threat). These are called “relational” bullying because they attack relationships and friendships.

Sexual

Another example of bullying experienced more often by girls than boys is sexual (for example, touched in private body parts or received sexual messages) (4, 11). Sexual types of bullying may occur at school, in the general community, and on-line. In recent Canadian and U.S. surveys, a significant number of girls report receiving unwanted sexual messages. Fewer boys reported being targeted in this way. This form of bullying combined with messages about rejection from friendships can be devastating to a girl’s sense of enthusiasm for school and learning, self-esteem, and hopes for the future. These forms of bullying can be particularly time-consuming and difficult to resolve given that they involve many people over a period of time and are most often done covertly. It may even involve adults who react aggressively in defence of their children. In addition, parents and school authorities do not always detect gossiping or other covert bullying behaviors because they are generally hidden from adults (12, 13). Thus, they may not be disciplined and “caught”, which may increase the severity and duration of these behaviours. It may even occur among “friends”, making it seem that it’s just typical peer conflict. However, when one girl feels powerless in how she is being treated, then bullying is occurring, and adults need to intervene.

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