Back in the day, early research on aggression indicated that girls did not engage in aggressive behaviors. This statement often evokes a “ha!” or a “what?!” for those of us who work with youth. The problem with the first research on aggression was its focus on direct and physical aggression. Research today shows that girls do not engage in direct or physical aggression to the same degree as boys do. Girls do however engage in aggression that is referred to as social and relational aggression. These two types of aggression have slightly different definitions but basically include behaviors that hurt friendships and diminish social status and social self-esteem. Relational and social aggression include things like rumors, gossip, exclusion, and mean words whispered behind someone’s back. Girls also talk about body language that hurts. “She tossed her hair” or “she rolled her eyes” are common grievances expressed by girls in social conflict. Helping girls recognize and name Relational Aggression (RA) is an important first step for change.
Do you work with girls and do you want to get the discussion rolling about RA? Take a look at the attached questionnaire that Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D., and Charisse Nixon, Ph.D. present in their book, Girl Wars: 12 Strategies that Will End Female Bullying. This “quiz” can be completed privately and anonymously by girls in a class or a group. It can provide an interesting starting place for discussion. Girls sometimes find it helpful to know they share the experience of being the occasional target of RA. (“Wow! That happened to me too!”) They may also find it enlightening to reflect on their own experiences of being the “mean girl” once in a while or even frequently.
This discussion is a starting place. Check out our Social World Resource Guide for parents and other activities in this section to help you support girls in their positive relationships and with their conflict resolution skills.
PLEASE NOTE: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this web site with your psychotherapist or physician.