Are girls getting meaner? Are they more likely than those of preceding generations to engage in violent and threatening behavior?
These are among the questions being asked in connection with the bullying-related suicide of teenager Phoebe Prince in Massachusetts and general concerns about bullying between kids.
Not so, say two researchers
Researchers Mike Males and Meda-Chesney Lind, writing in today’s New York Times (link below), say no, that it’s a myth that girls are becoming more violent:
But this panic is a hoax. We have examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None show a recent increase in girls’ violence; in fact, every reliable measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years. Major offenses like murder and robbery by girls are at their lowest levels in four decades. Fights, weapons possession, assaults and violent injuries by and toward girls have been plunging for at least a decade.
But what about verbal, indirect bullying?
The article offers an important response to the elevated levels of attention being devoted to school bullying. However, it doesn’t address some of the core concerns.
Verbal aggression stopping short of a threat of violence, exclusionary behaviors, and malicious gossip can be more common ways in which kids bully kids. Is it possible that girls are more likely to use these behaviors than to engage in physical violence and threats? And when they engage in these behaviors are they more likely to direct them toward other girls?
I raise these questions in part because of my understanding of bullying in the adult workplace. Although women do not constitute the majority of workplace aggressors, when they bully they are more likely to target other women. Furthermore, although this question is not fully settled, many believe that women are more likely to use indirect tactics to bully instead of direct, in-your-face behaviors.
Males and Lind suggest that we risk defaming a generation of girls by suggesting they are more violent than their predecessors. As I see it, it’s not a question of defamation. Rather, we’re seeing very disturbing behaviors in our schools today that, left unchecked, may continue to wreak havoc in our communities and workplaces tomorrow.