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Ugly Truth of School Bullying

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Image from movie "Mean Girls"

IT'S not the kind of club you'll see calling for members on the school noticeboard, but almost every school has got one.

Students can't sign up to be a part of this exclusive sisterhood - it chooses them.

It's the kind of club that requires absolutely no skill to join. All you have to be is female, skinny, pretty and popular.

Welcome to the social club dominated by teenage alpha females, who exist solely to exclude everyone else.

Getting through years 7, 8 and 9 is all about navigating your way through being bullied by gossip, rumours, teasing and doing everything you can to avoid the bitchiness of popular girls.

Normally, these coteries are known only to members and schoolmates but a glimpse into their world was revealed this week when a principal of a Catholic college in Queensland was forced to write to every parent of the school about a group of girls known as Club 21.

A group of Year 11 students from Mackay's St Patrick's College created the club, also known as Big 21, in which they ranked themselves according to their looks, their weight and popularity with boys.

Some girls wore their number on their wrists and climbing the ranks involved engaging in promiscuous behaviour and binge drinking.

Mums who found notes written by their daughters claimed Club 21 was a secret code for two plus one, donoting a sexual threesome.

"The girls are encouraged to have a threesome sex experience . . . they get more points for this," an insider close to the families said.

Experts in adolescent behaviour said yesterday the "girl club" phenomena was nothing new and existed in almost every school in Australia.

"The leader is often known as the Queen Bee," psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said.

"But these people almost inevitably crash and burn after leaving school so it might be a blessing not to be involved.

"The clubs have a chain of command, they conduct their business in secret and they exist to exclude others.

"Being excluded, not part of the in-crowd, can be the worst nightmare for any girl. This is the most tribal generation of kids that the country has seen.

"Getting through years 7, 8 and 9 is all about navigating your way through being bullied by gossip, rumours, teasing and doing everything you can to avoid the bitchiness of popular girls."

Youthsafe executive director Anne Deans said adolescents formed cliques because the opinions of their peers were so important to them.

"Our focus is on the prevention of unintentional injury. These are sub-cultures and there is concern about the risk-taking behaviour that can happen," she said.

Girls drawn into the club are at risk of developing dangerous conditions such as anorexia and bulimia. The threat to female teenagers is so grave that education authorities are hiring consultants to run classes in self-esteem.

Eight public high schools in Sydney's west have hired an outside educator to run sessions with girls in Year 9 to Year 11 who are at risk of either dropping out or not reaching their potential because they have a low sense of self-worth.

National director of the private firm Enliven Education Dannielle Miller said the Club 21 revelations were no surprise.

"Girl world can be very destructive - three in five girls are teased about their looks and appearance," she said.

"The victims are caught up in a cycle of compare and dispair.

"It's all about who is in and who is out, who is pretty, who is slutty. There are names for everyone. Can you imagine waking up and wondering what number (ranking) you are going to get while still trying to do your senior studies.

"The new mediums of the internet and mobile phones have just exacerbated it.

"Unlike comments written on a toilet wall you can't press a delete button once the material is in cyber world."

Ms Miller said schools were taking the issue seriously because they realised there was a link between academic achievement and students' self-image. Clinical psychologist Grant Brecht said one reason for the development of these girl gangs was the lack of "good rational role models that they come into contact with".

Step forward public enemy No.1 Paris Hilton.

Sydney teenage girls approached by The Daily Telegraph slammed any group that ranked them by weight and prettiness but acknowledged their existence.

Meanwhile St Patrick's College principal Eamon Hannan said the school community had been "devastated" by the media coverage.

"I want everyone to know that the students of St Patrick's College are an outstanding group of young women and men, and to see them upset and distressed at the public airing of their alleged failings is heartbreaking," Mr Hannan said.

"We must remember these are teenagers with whom we are dealing and they are very vulnerable."

And their biggest threat seems to be from within.

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1 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Mar 2, 2009 2:38am [ 1 ]

Ah yes, self-esteem workshops. I remember them well. I was put into one of those in my western Sydney high school (which I was a student at from the mid 80s to 91). We were given self-esteem lectures by the area health service youth workers. They were about as useful as offering a vegetarian a free steak meal. In the end, I just ended up feeling worse, because I felt they were blaming me for my situation, and because they joined in excluding me themselves.

Let me explain. The workers said we had the chance to do a short course in film/videos. We were interviewed for it, with them on the other side of the room and us one by one responding to their questions sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. They rang later to say I had not been successful. Yet another thing I was excluded from. Great help, guys!

By the way, I've gone on to work in the media, making documentaries amongst other things. Ironic, huh?

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