“Relational aggression refers to harm within relationships that is caused by covert bullying or manipulative behavior. Examples include isolating a youth from his or her group of friends (social exclusion), threatening to stop talking to a friend (the ‘‘silent treatment’’), or spreading gossip and rumors electronically or via the “grapevine.” Relational aggression tends to be manipulative or subtle, and may not appear as typically aggressive behavior.” – NASP
It’s the New Mean Girl Scene!
“I don’t want to go to school!”
“All the girls hate me!”
“Can’t we please just go away for awhile?”
“I can’t take it anymore!”
“It’s not getting better!”
“I can’t tell them to stop! Why don’t you believe me?”
Sound familiar? They’re the kind of comments young girls utter about the “mean girl scene.” What they may not be saying is how it makes them feel: Left out. Rejected. Excluded. Gossiped about. Hurt. Humiliated. Even terrorized. The problem is most girls are too embarrassed to say their true feelings to their parents or teachers and so they keep their humiliation, stress and terror to themselves.
They are victims of hurtful, cruel behavior called “Relational Aggression” or RA that is perpetrated by other girls –usually peers. The goal of relational aggression is to damage the girl’s social standing or reputation by intentionally manipulating how others view her.
The methods of RA are always cold and calculated: Deliberately isolating or excluding the victim, spreading vicious rumors or posting scandalous lies online, or creating situations to publicly humiliate her. And the Mean Girl Scene is starting younger. The consequences to the victim’s mental health and character are serious. Unfortunately, the signs of relational aggression are often tougher for parents and teachers to spot than traditional bullying. One reason is because there are usually no physical scrapes, bruises, torn clothing, or lost items that are more typical with physical or sexual-type bullying.
But there’s another reason: Our daughters may not tell us that they are victims which is exactly why parents and teachers must learn the warnings signs. Studies show that the older the girl, the less likely she will divulge her troubling experience with the mean social scene to an adult.
Research also finds a common top reason for their silence: Suffering in silence is often much easier than admitting to peer humiliation.
Many girls also admit that they did “tell” a parent, teacher or other caregiver and even ask for help, but they were only to have their “tale” dismissed as “trivial, an exaggeration or just plain untrue.”
“Why bother,” many a girl told me. “No one listened.”
“It’s just easier to stay quiet,” others said.
“I did try to tell, but my mom told me it was exaggerating.”
“It would be far worse if the girls found out I snitched on them. My life would be a living hell.”
As a result many girls never receive the emotional help they so desperately need. Let’s not wait and hope our girls come to use. They may not. That’s why it important that you get educated about RA and learn the signs so you can help your daughter.
10 Signs A Girl May Be a “Mean Girl” Victim
Bullying is repeated. It is intentionally or purposeful. It is not normal disagreement or discord amongst kids. Bullying involves a power imbalance – the girl who is the target cannot hold her own against the queen bee and her entourage. There are a few behaviors that could be signs of RL. Of course, there could be a number of other reasons for such behaviors, but any one of the traits below should be a red flag that something is wrong and warrant a closer look. Do know that every girl is going to have a “hard day or week,” but RA is a pattern that usually endures.
Look for a change in behavior that is not the girl’s “typical” mood, antics, or style. The behavior may come on suddenly. You know that something isn’t right, and that behavior continues. Dig deeper! Bullying is also situational – the behavior may not be happening in all places. Chart the pattern to try and identify Where, When or with Whom your daughter is exhibiting the behavior. You may need to ask others who know your child best.
Don’t expect your daughter to tell you that she is having trouble, most don’t.
Humiliation or embarrassment, fear of retaliation, concern that things will get worse, or we won’t believe them are top reasons girls don’t tell.
Just don’t overlook that relational aggression could be a possible cause. If your daughter is depressed, overly sad, or anxious, get help!
1. She is “picked on,” shunned, or excluded often
Every girl will be picked on or left out, but if you hear this complaint more than a few times take your daughter seriously. Bullying is a usually a repeated behavior that always has a negative intent. Once a girl becomes a target, she often is repeatedly targeted. Watch for a repeated pattern.
2. She displays a pattern of wishy-washy, on-and-off again “friendships”
She seems to be friends with one girl one week and then “hates” her the next week. Or she’s “best friends” with one girl one day and then quickly becomes best friends with another girl another day.
3. She speaks negatively about certain girls or a certain group of girls or clique
This could be the same group of girls that she once considered to be good friends.Tune in a bit closer. It could be a sign that relational aggression is happening in your child’s class or group.
4. She has a sudden marked and uncharacteristic change in mood
The girl may seems sadder or even depressed or more irritable or angry and those changes seems to come on when she comes home from school, during the weekends (when she may be “uninvited”) or after a phone call, email or text-message.
5. She suddenly withdraws
She starts pulling away from things she once enjoyed. She is lonely.
6. She doesn’t speak of having any friends
No one calls, texts, emails or invites her over (not for one day or one weekend but as a general pattern). Remember, popularity is a myth. Girls don’t need lots of friends, but they do need one or two loyal buddies. The red flag here is if your daughter has no friends, or had friends and suddenly “lost” them.
7. She suddenly avoids certain social situations
She doesn’t want to go to school or take part in the scouting, church group, soccer club, 4-H or other group activities she once enjoyed.
8. She seems jittery, concerned or even afraid when an email, text, message, or call comes for her
She may quickly cover up the computer screen or refuse to answer a text or personal call. It may mean she is the victim of cyberbullying or fears that vicious electronic gossip or photos are being circulated about her (which could include be “sexting”).
9. She has a sudden change in her eating or sleep habits
She suddenly complains of stomach or headaches or the inability to focus or concentrate. She can’t sleep or sleeps much longer. Her grades take a dip.
10. She starts to speak about girls in a mean way
She adopts the attitude and behavior of a mean girl. Beware: victims can switch and become the bully if not helped. And our kids are affected by their peer group. Keep an eye on the scene.
If you think your daughter is really having a hard time,be available. Schedule a few weekends together. Take her to the gym with you. Take her to lunch. Find her an ally. Talk to the teacher. Talk to other adults – and her friends – who care about her to help you gain perspective. Help her create a safety plan or “out” away from the scene. Help her find a friend. If she needs friendship making skills, help her learn them. Seek a counselor’s advice. Increase her self-esteem. And believe her!
If things get really tough, consider seeking professional help. Bullying is a repeated pattern. It can increase and endure. Keep an eye on the scene. And most importantly, keep an eye on your daughter.
Research and Resources
Overt and Relational Aggression and Victimization: Multiple Perspectives within the School Setting by Martha Putallaz, et al NCBI, Junior School Psychologist
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing.