One of the most common and hurtful bullying tactics, especially among girls, is social exclusion. This technique has many advantages for the kids doing it:
1. It’s “soft” — no bloody noses or broken glasses.
2. It’s “secret” — unless the excluded child complains, adults won’t usually notice it.
3. It’s “secure” — by participating, every member of the group excluding the victim is protected from falling into social last place.
4. It’s “safe” — from effective adult intervention.
It doesn’t seem that bad, though. After all, why would you want to belong to a group of mean kids? And, why would you want to belong to a club that doesn’t want you as a member?
Why is social exclusion so terrifying and painful?
The answer is found in both biology and anthropology. Most places on the natural planet offer mortal threats to an isolated human being. Without water we may die within days; without warmth, hours. If we cannot get food, we weaken and die within weeks at most. Our physiology is more vulnerable than most other animals. And, in the wild there are a wide variety of other animals that can kill or maim us — as well as a few that will eat us. Safety and survival for such an animal is easiest, surest, and longest in groups.
In fact, the oldest form of capital punishment in human society is simple banishment. Solitary exiled humans tend to weaken and die, cold, alone, frightened, and in pain — lunch for large predators, or scavengers.
The more primitive parts of our brain know that group acceptance is a survival requirement. So, at a very deep level, the terror and pain of rejection portends the terror and pain of death itself.
This is also why peer pressuring — the threat of rejection — is so potent. And, the leverage is far greater at the primitive emotional levels of a child’s brain than most adults can appreciate. The child must achieve acceptance — or perish. At least that’s what their primitive brain thinks. To be socially excluded as a child is to live in a horror movie…
What Can I Do?
What you can’t do is intervene in a useful way: Complaining to adults about this kind of bullying is a violation of the “kids’ code of silence.” It is as “unfair” as bringing a baseball bat into a shoving match. That kind of strategy demonstrates weakness, as well as disregard for the boundaries of “kids’ land”. It will elicit contempt and increased aggression. So, don’t force a group to include the “ugly girl” or the “dorky boy”. And, don’t force those kids to attend gatherings of children that reject them, either.
What You Can Do, Easily:
Teach a vital life-skill demonstrated in this clip.
(shown under fair use for educational purposes)
Horror movies may be terrifying, yet when we turn on the lights, we’re all sitting safely on the couch. Explain to youngsters, in appropriate terms, that emotions about social exclusion are primitive, and that’s what makes them so intense and terrifying. Explain that those emotions were correct in primitive times, but in modern society, nobody is going to die from being excluded by a group of children.
Find (or create) groups with intramural and other after-school programs, scouting, community activities, and creative or outdoor activities. Look for things that involve others their same age, and that either don’t involve lots of score-keeping — or things where that child scores well. Well-managed martial arts classes offer an environment of acceptance and respect.
Facilitate self-esteem: Stay tuned for details on this …