University Relations and Communications

Girl fights: adults need to pay attention to social aggression, speaker at 'Safe Schools' says

July 6, 2009



Kim Schweikert, MSU Billings Downtown, 896-5880
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Two-day conference is next week at MSU Billings Main Campus


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”


That’s the old playground comeback for kids caught on the short end of an insult barrage.


But experts are finding that old saw about words never hurting may not actually be true. And some say that girls may be better than boys at bringing the hurt.


“It’s the verbal and social aggression that occurs frequently between girls that adults need to pay attention to,” said Susan Dotter, a Helena middle school counselor.


Dotter will be one of  several experts providing insights and advice next week at a special two-day “Safe Schools, Safe Community” conference sponsored by Montana State University Billings.  The conference, which runs Monday and Tuesday (July 20-21) at the MSU Billings Student Union Building, is presented by the MSU Billings College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning and the Yellowstone County Tavern Association. 


The two-day conference is being organized as a way for parents, educators, community activists, professionals and others to become more informed and learn prevention methods that deal not only with bullying, but also suicide, cybersex and gang activity. 


Dotter, who has been involved in education for 29 years, will speak about “Girl Wars.” She said her central message is not that adults should teach kids how not to be bullies, but “teaching kids how to be respectful.”  She also emphasizes that adults should pay closer attention to how kids treat each other, especially girls.


“People have a tendency to focus on boys’ aggression because they tend to be more physical,” she said. “But in girls, it’s more difficult to detect.”


Girls tend to focus social aggression and isolation tactics (internet posts and instant messaging, for example) that can hurt people as much as outright physical bullying, she said. She tells of an instance where two girls called a third and through three-way calling, proceeded to say bad things about the third person while she was listening.


Often this kind of behavior happens in front of adults, she said, but they are less aware of it because it is not physical in nature.

“If your child is one of the targets, it’s devastating,” she said.


Dotter will join others who will talk about struggles with school and community safety.  The keynote speaker on Tuesday is John Halligan, will talk about his personal experience with cyberbulling. He lost his 13-year-old son, Ryan, to suicide in 2003 as a student in Vermont. It was only after his death that the family learned in greater detail that Ryan was ridiculed and humiliated by peers at school and online.


In memory of his son, Halligan spearheaded the Vermont Bully Prevention bill that was signed into law in 2004. He also worked on passage of legislation that mandated suicide prevention education in Vermont’s schools.


The cost of the two-day conference, which includes breakfast and lunch both days is $159.  You must register in advance and space is limited. Children entering sixth grade and older can attend the conference with a paying adult, but must also pay the full conference fee.  Children under the age of 18 may not attend the conference without an adult.


Teachers wishing to get college credit may register for that the first day of the conference for an additional $100. 


For more information, contact Kim Schweikert at the MSU Billings Downtown Campus at 896-5880