Whispering behind another girl's back. Starting hurtful rumors. Excluding others from your group of friends. Posting a mean comment on someone's Instagram profile.
The list of examples could go on. Relational aggression is the most common way girls bully each other, and although it does not inflict physical pain, it is the most painful bullying for girls because of the importance they place on their relationships and what others think about them.
Girl Scouts of Western New York's Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) released a study called "Feeling Safe: What Girls Say" (2003). The study found that girls place a high value on emotional safety, and one-third of girls are most worried about being teased or made fun of. Another GSRI study found that many girls care a lot about what others think about them, which negatively impacts their leadership aspirations and relationships.
Armed with this and other information, Girl Scouts of the USA established a national program called Be A Friend First, or BFF, that focuses on helping girls develop healthy relationships while confronting bullying behaviors. The program adheres to the Girl Scout Leadership Experience model, which is based on the concept that girls develop their own leadership skills through three essential actions around a topic: discover, connect and take action. In the BFF program, girls discover by learning more about bullying and unhealthy relationships. They connect with others to discuss the problems around bullying, and then they develop and implement a plan to take action to curb or eliminate the problem.
BFF is ideal for middle school-aged girls, and the program is often run by volunteers in many settings or facilities, including schools. In Chautauqua County, BFF programs were run earlier this year at the Eastside Family YMCA in Jamestown and at Dunkirk Middle School through their afterschool program. In Rochester, the program has been held at the Girl Scout Service Center.
The program's opening activities include drawing what a bully looks like and talking about how different stereotypes influence how you see and act toward others. The group also discusses what cliques are and why they are hurtful.
"When the girls learned about cliques, they didn't really know what a clique was until we started talking about excluding people from a group that they may belong to. All of a sudden I saw light bulbs going off," said Jeanine Atieh, a volunteer from Webster who led a BFF program from the Rochester Service Center.
Atieh pointed out that after learning what a clique is, many girls said they were doing it and they didn't even realize. "I was surprised to learn that most of the girls had experienced that at some point, and they had no idea that it was a form of bullying by excluding others from the group," she said.
The program also prepares girls to handle bullying or relationship situations they may encounter in the real world. They learn communication techniques and other strategies to calmly break up hurtful situations and maintain healthy friendships.
At the conclusion of the program, girls plan and implement a Take Action project, which is a task or group of tasks completed that the girls come up with to help resolve the problem at hand. For example, girls who completed the program at the Eastside YMCA of Greater Jamestown created posters with various anti-bullying slogans to hang up around the facility.
"Ultimately I think it benefited the girls to spend some time thinking about bullying and to look at their relationships critically," said Emily Schlick, who ran the program from the Eastside YMCA. "I would love to see other groups in the area take up the BFF curriculum as well. Adolescence isn't easy, and the more tools we can give young people for navigating it, the better."
To volunteer to lead a BFF program or to mentor girls for Girl Scouts of Western New York, visit gswny.org.