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Girl Scouts + Empathy ≠ Bullies

How Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland has empowered young girls to stand up against bullies through empathy.

By Lindsay Collett

Lindsay Collett, Program Manager of Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland, holds Associate Degrees in both Marketing Management and Multimedia from Zane State College. While working in graphic design and advertising she became an active Girl Scout volunteer. After seven years, she transformed her passion for Girl Scouting into a career, serving first in outreach and membership before becoming a Program Manager in 2008. As Program Manager she studies trends in girls’ interests, researches program content and develops hands-on experiences tailored to motivate and engage girls by age level.

April 23, 2013

Power Up, developed by Girl Scouts of Colorado, focuses on encouraging the 85% of girls who are bystanders to bullying behavior—especially the gossip, exclusion, and drama common among girls—to stand up and defend targets and make the world a better place. The Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland decided to join in Colorado's efforts of empower young women to stand up to bullying. Doing nothing is not an option! By teaching girls how to think—instead of what to think—girls learn to trust their gut to know when they experience, witness, or perpetuate bullying; and to understand that no simple answer works in every situation. 

Power Up cultivates empathy through many of the curriculum activities. First and foremost, we focus on building a safe space for the girls. The girls work together to build a group agreement, which sets boundaries and a standard of how everyone should be treated. By getting the girls to build the agreement, they have ownership of the guidelines which helps to reinforce them. We continue to build a community through icebreaker games.

From there, the girls begin to discover the basics of bullying, including the definition of bullying (getting pleasure from someone else’s pain; it is mean, on purpose, and never okay) and learning to differentiate between normal conflict and bullying behavior. Girls discover the roles involved in bullying situations through an engaging role play game. To keep the girls safe and to ensure they don’t internalize any of the situations, the girls wear name tags to match the characters in the various role play scenarios. The characters play different roles in each scenario so that girls get to safely experience each of the roles. “Maria” may be a target in the first scenario, a bully in the second, and a defender in the third.

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Empathy really comes into play when we pull the girls together to discuss the three types of bullying. We sit in a circle and use a stuffed animal (we use a Sneetch, from the Dr. Seuss story) as a talking object. As we review each of the three types, girls have an opportunity to share their personal experiences. This talk helps the girls to see that they are not alone—everyone has been involved in a bullying situation.

After building a safe space and discovering the basics, girls begin to take action to make the world a better place. Girls practice defender drills, rotating between three roles (bully, target, and defender) to rehearse using their own words to defend against bullying behavior in a safe manner that protects the dignity of everyone involved—even the bully. We discourage the girls from bullying back! Girls have cue cards to follow when they are in the bully role, and we use extra facilitators to help ensure that the girls playing the target role are not internalizing the situations.

In this phase of the program, girls develop a safe places map, which is one of the most powerful tools used by the girls to involve parents and educators. The girls create a map of their school, and use red dot stickers to mark the places where bullying occurs. They use smiley face stickers to denote any place girls feel safe from bullying behavior.

Once the girls are nearing the conclusion of the program, they plan a service leading presentation. Once they determine the audience—typically parents, educators, school administration, or even community stakeholders—girls decide what information their audience needs to know about bullying. Though each girl-led presentation is unique, girls tend to share information about the roles involved in bullying situations, the defender drills, and their safe places maps. Often, adults don’t realize the extent of bullying behavior or the effect it has on girls. They chalk up many bullying situations to “just girl drama,” “just girls being girls,” etc., and they don’t know how to intervene, when to intervene, or even how to help the girls in their lives deal with the realities of bullying. We have found that the service leading presentation has been an eye-opening experience for the adults, especially when they see that map of the school dotted with many red stickers and just a few smiley face stickers.

Though we haven’t had the program long—just under one year—we’ve already empowered more than 1,000 girls to become defenders against bullying behavior! After completing the program, girls have thanked us for teaching them how to handle harassment and for helping adults actually understand what girls are like. Girls have shared how much they’ve learned—that it’s okay to help someone in need, ignoring bullying makes you a bully, and not to pick on anyone because they now know how much it can hurt. Since attending Power Up, girls have changed they way they look at bullying, how they think about people, and the way they treat everyone around them. We’re looking forward to the future, and being able to train more volunteer facilitators and teaching even more girls that doing nothing is not an option!

Images provided by author.