Relational Aggression and the Impact on Our Girls

by | Nov 12, 2009 | Uncategorized

Part II The Affect of Relational Aggression (RA) On Girls

Michele Borba

Note to readers: This is the second in a series of blogs about relational aggression-or the new mean girl scene-and what educators and parents can do to curb this troubling trend. The first step to change is always awareness. And we need to be keenly aware of both the short and long-range impact this behavior can have on our daughters. Make no mistake: Relational Aggression is bullying. Bullying always has three factors: a negative, cruel intent; a power imbalance (one child can not hold their own); and repetition. The base of bullying is always relational. Bullying tactics can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual or electronic.

Disturbing research reveals that many of the sugar and spice breed have turned into no longer nice—especially during those tweens years. “Vicious, mean, calculating and backstabbing” are more applicable terms. Psychologists call such hurtful behavior “Relational Aggression” or RA because the goal is to damage the victim’s social standing or reputation by intentionally manipulating how others view her. And the methods of RA are always cold and calculated.

Being taunted and shunned, hearing cruel words or knowing vicious and malicious gossip is being spread about you is debilitating. So let’s get rid of that absurd notion once and for all that being shunned and verbally abused will toughen our girls up and boost their resilience. (Believe it or not, I still hear those antiquated notions far too often). There is no redeeming value to experiencing emotional trauma. EVER!

Short and Long-Terms Affects of Relational Aggression

The facts are plain, simple and disturbing: Relational aggression is every bit as damaging as physical abuse. Studies prove that being the repeated target of relational aggression is linked to low self-esteem, intense sadness, heightened anxiety, fear of other people, anger, eating disorders, social withdrawal and loneliness. It also lowers grades and academic performance and increases a girl’s risk for depression and in extreme cases, suicide. Such debilitating experiences are difficult to erase and can have long-range effects. The risks to our daughter’s emotional health are just far too great for relational aggression to be taken lightly.

How Boys Bully

While both both genders do bully, there are differences in how they inflict harm. Boys tend to be more physically aggressive so male bullying (especially around the school-age years) is more apt to involve kicking, grabbing, hitting, shoving, or punching. Male bullying tends to be more of the in-your-face variety meaning that males are far more likely to confront victims face to face. Research also shows that boys are less apt to spread vicious rumors via the Internet (or cyberbullying).

How Girls Bully

While younger girls use more overt mean exclusion tactics (“You can’t play,” or “I don’t want you here,” or even “Don’t let her into our game!”), older girl are more prone to use the ‘under the radar backstabbing approach’ to inflict pain. Methods are more covert such as spreading vicious rumors or scandalous gossip, deliberately excluding another girl, using betrayal or the “silent treatment” or other indirect means for revenge. The pink set is more also the gender likely to send cruel rumors or crude comments via email, text, or IMing. That’s why cyberbullying is the perfect delivery system for relational aggression: it’s anonymous, vicious, viral and effective in spreading hurt and damaging reputations.

Forms of Relational Aggression

Though relational aggression can take many forms, among the most common methods girls use are these:

  • Shunning, excluding or ignoring
  • Spreading malicious gossip, lies and rumors
  • Taunting, insulting, name calling or verbal abuse
  • Harassing and intimidating
  • Manipulating affection or friendships
  • Building alliances to exclude others
  • Cyberbullying or sending slanderous rumors electronically
  • Using physical threats or extortion
  • Threatening to withdraw friendship
  • Sexting or sending photo images of girls in compromising situations electronically

Stay tuned to the next blogs addressing what motivates a girl to be so mean and how to know if your child is the target of relational aggression.

To read more about these trends, specific advice, warning signs, and habits to teach your daughter to counter the problems please refer to my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries; Cell Phone (p 598); Cyberbullying (p 602); Internet Safety (p 610); Bullied (p 323); Cliques (p 342); Rejected (p 373).

Michele Borba is an educational psychologist, TODAY parenting contributor, an author of 20 books. Her latest (that this blog is adapted from) is The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. You can follow her on twitter @MicheleBorba