The book Queen Bees and Wannabes was written in 2002 by Rosalind Wiseman. She brought attention to the ways that pre-teen and teen girls tend to bully one another. Wiseman’s book later inspired the movie Mean Girls, which helped shine a light on this often under-recognized type of bullying.
Relational aggression can sometimes slide under the radar because it is a combination of social, verbal, and sometimes cyberbullying. However, since the book and movie, many bullying experts use the phrase “mean girls” as a way to make relational aggression an easier term to understand.
It has been shown through studies of North American teens and pre-teens, that girls tend to be more relationally aggressive than boys, especially during fifth through eighth grades. However, these hurtful and impactful behaviors are not limited to one particular gender, to a specific age group, or even to a certain type of relationship.
Here are some tactics of relational aggression:
- Eye rolling
- Giving someone the silent treatment
- Forming cliques or exclusive groups
- Excluding and/or ostracizing others
- Laughing at someone
- Making fun of others for who they are, how they dress, or the way they look
- Leaving hurtful messages on cell phones, desks, or in lockers
- Refusing to share friends
- Refusing to work with a classmate
- Refusing to sit next to someone in the cafeteria or in class
- Trying to stop two people from being friends
- Forcing a friend to pick sides in a disagreement
- Using peer pressure to get others to take part in bullying or shaming
- Spreading rumors or gossip
There is a difference between rude behavior, which could be some of the tactics listed above, and “mean girl” behavior. We need to look at the intent. Kids, pre-teens, teens, and even adults sometimes make mistakes in their relationships with other people. Relational aggression is intended to lower someone’s social standing and/or establish or maintain a power role in a relationship.
There are dangers to cliques and relational aggression. Some negative impacts are:
- Academic struggles
- Feelings of rejection, inadequacy, and unattractiveness
- Limits to a teen’s social circle
- Creating an unhealthy environment where peer pressure thrives
- Can make bullies and “mean girls” brave, meaning they are more likely to engage in bullying behaviors
- Reducing the chance of true and authentic friendships
- Negatively impact a teen’s self-discovery and self-esteem
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal ideation
It is important that parents and educators address relational aggression head-on. Expecting kids to “work it out” is never effective when it comes to bullying behavior. Victims of bullying need help and support to get through this experience. Make sure you take the time to listen, be empathetic, patient, and encouraging. Discuss the fact that while we cannot control what other people do or say, we can control our response. We can choose to be upstanders.
Please consider counseling or visiting a doctor if they need help expressing their feelings, learning healthy coping skills, or if you notice any signs of depression or they express thoughts of suicide.