If you've kept up with the news this year, you've probably noticed the sad and disturbing phenomenon of teenagers committing suicide as a result of being relentlessly bullied. Whether it takes place at school, at home or in the social media space, bullying has reemerged in the public consciousness as a major issue facing young people across the country. To quote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "Bullying threatens the health and well-being of our young people. It's destructive to our communities and devastating to our future."
In our digital age, cyberbullying -- harassment by peers, even total strangers via unwanted texts, Facebook posts, tweets and other social media communications -- has become a particular problem for young girls, often with tragic consequences. And unlike traditional school-yard bullying, cyberbullies can attack their victims at any time, robbing them not only of their sense of self-worth, but of the feeling of security that comes with having a "safe space."
October is National Bullying Prevention Month across the United States -- an opportunity to examine the root causes of bullying in our society and to reach out to victims and let them know they are not alone. Bullying is learned behavior, and at Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), our BFF (Be a Friend First) program helps girls by giving them the skills to identify bullying behavior, call it out when they see it, confront it in a constructive way for themselves and others and take action to create healthy and positive relationships in their communities. Offered nationwide in middle schools and community and faith-based organizations, BFF encourages girls to form healthy relationships; respect others and explore the difficulties of peer pressure, stereotyping, gossip and cliques through role-playing, creative writing, games and discussion exercises.
In a report on BFF due out early next year, GSUSA shares the finding that girls are ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying bullying behaviors, as well as the fact that, sadly, most girls have had firsthand experiences with bullying. Also included are the findings that more than 50 percent of girls see bullying as a "big" or "huge" problem and 54 percent say they've been bullied "in the last two weeks." Encouragingly, Girl Scouts in middle school who participated in our BFF program gained important leadership skills over the course of the program, including a strengthened sense of self and the ability to resolve conflicts and educate and inspire others in preventing bullying behavior.
By helping girls gain confidence and relationship skills and providing them with the tools necessary to advocate for themselves and others, we are developing leaders who build consensus, resolve conflicts and bridge divides between people -- all of which enable success at school, in the workplace, and throughout life.
At Girl Scouts, we're building girls who have the courage, confidence and character to call out and fight against the growing national problem of bullying. In so doing, we're preparing today's girls to be the leaders of tomorrow who will make the world a better place.