Dr. Luisa Bryce
Girls Can Be Meanies
I had many responses and comments to my post last week regarding girls and relational aggression, so I thought I’d describe the topic a little more in detail. When I think of the term relational aggression, I think of “girl bullying.” It’s common for people to think that boys are bigger bullies than girls, but girls just bully in a different way. As I mentioned last week, boys most often bully by direct name calling and physical fighting. For example, one boy calls another boy who has braces “metal mouth” to his face, the victim lunges at the name-caller, and the two begin hitting each other. Girls, on the other hand, are, in general, not nearly as direct. Sure, there are some girls who use physical aggression, but most girls are sly and sneaky about their bullying. They tend to bully by negatively using social relationships, hence the term relational aggression. Girls spread rumors, divulge each other’s personal secrets, and backstab. Like boys, they verbally insult each other, but tend to use verbal insults in conjunction with hostile body language (think eye rolling). Girls are also more “cliquish” than boys and often exclude others from their social groups. What’s worse is girls tend to hold grudges whereas boys fight and forget.
Now I am fully aware not all girls are “like this,” and there are certainly boys who use relational aggression as well. However, elements of relational aggression tend to be more prevalent in female friendships, and bullying occurs when these acts of aggression happen over and over again to a specific victim. Girls sometimes have difficulty in standing their ground and solving complicated relational conflicts without the help of adults. If left unresolved, relational aggression can lead to low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression. As a mom, it’s up to you to support your daughter. Here are a few tips on what you can say and do:
Get involved in your daughter’s friendships. Meet her friends’ parents. Ask your daughter why her friendships are important, what qualities she looks for in a friend, and what she enjoys doing with her friends. Help her choose her friends based on positive characteristics and commonalities.
Talk to your daughter about bullying even if she’s not involved. Educate her about what to look for and what to do if she sees others bullying, is a victim, or is involved in a social group of bullies.
Model positive friendships with other women. Discuss the function of direct communication and compromise/problem solving with your daughter. Don’t engage in gossip, backstabbing, or hostile body language in front of your daughter.
Get involved with your daughter’s school and teachers. Ask about the school’s policy on relational aggression and non-physical bullying. Encourage the principal to organize informational meetings for parents and students on relational aggression.
Seek counseling if your daughter is a victim of bullying or if she is bullying other girls. Remember, bullying is repeated acts of relational or physical aggression that interfere with a child’s daily quality of life. If you begin to notice behaviors such as depressed mood, irritability, isolation, lack of interest in social activities, or school avoidance in your daughter, seek help. Talk to your daughter’s school counselor or social worker about options in your area for therapy.