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Counselor's Corner



Relational Aggression

Last month’s counseling corner spoke about cyber bullying, this month I would like to introduce you to another form of bullying that has been prevalent in our schools for decades, but is only recently making its way into main stream discussions on the topic. I am talking about relational aggression. Relational aggression refers mainly to the way girls bully, and while this article will focus on girls, please note that boys are beginning to use this form of aggression as well. Relational aggressionusually involves groups and/or cliques, and is also referred to as “the hidden way girls bully”. In relational aggression girls use their friendship, humiliation techniques, gossip, exclusion, and social hierarchy as weapons. In the last decade there has been some wonderful research done on relational aggression and the devastating effects it has on our girls and boys. In my personal research and training on the topic, I have found that most experts agree on a few things: 

  1. Relational Aggression exists, and it is worse than ever, effecting girls as young as kindergarten and following them in many cases through adult hood. (Grown women still experience this hierarchy of popularity, and cliques in their work places). 
  2. We, as parents and school staff, must STOP overlooking this as a problem. 
  3. What girls need the most is positive role models for behavior, and adults they can talk to, who will listen to and respect the difficulties they are having. 
  4. WE MUST NOT let relational aggression happen right in front of us. WE MUST begin to identify this behavior as soon as we see it happen. 

Let me be clear, in no way do I believe we should make a spectacle of “mean girl” behavior. Our job is not to embarrass these girls. Our job is to help them become aware of how they are behaving and affecting their friends and other kids around them. As teachers and parents we need to set clear expectations of behavior, and when we see relational aggression happening, simply point it out and ask for it to stop. In some cases you may want to pull the student aside and tell her what you are seeing and ask her to stop. This will not only promote personal awareness, but it is modeling how we expect victims of relational aggression to handle these conflicts. By seeing us set the example girls will feel more empowered to be assertive. Some examples of what relational aggression looks like at the elementary level are: whispering, eye rolling, hair tossing, glaring, looking at student outside of the group and giggling, excluding girls or boys from a group or game, put downs, talking behind each other’s back and teasing. There are many other examples of relational aggression, too many to list. The bottom line is this, if you don’t know about relational aggression, or the way girls bully, learn about it! If and when you are familiar, talk about it, and don’t let your girls get away with it!!!! 

Here are some great resources that teach about relational aggression:

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls  By Mary Pipher

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls   By Rachel Simmons

Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Clique, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence   By Rosalind Wisemen