Bullying and negative aggression is as any action that inflicts physical or mental harm upon another person. Girls usually differ from boys in the type of aggressive behavior they exhibit toward others. Boys tend to inflict bodily pain, and girls most often, though not exclusively, engage in covert or relational aggression. Aggressive girls often gain power by withholding their friendship or by sabotaging the relationships of others. For example, a relational aggressive girl may insist that her friends ignore a particular child, exclude her from their group, form secret pacts to humiliate the child, call her names, and/or spread rumors about her.
Examples of such manipulation from girls can be statements such as, "If you don't play this game, I'll tell Sally that you called her stupid," or "You have to do what I say, or I won't play with you." Preschool children have been observed excluding peers by saying, "Don't let her play!" Sometimes they use retaliation by saying something like, "She was mean to me yesterday, so we won’t let her be our friend." In older girls, the gossip can be more vicious, for example, "I saw her cheating on a test.” Older girls gossip and say unkind things such as, “Her mother is a drunk?" or "She's a slut."
Bullying and aggression from girls is often more subtle than that from boys,, but the nonverbal communication of an aggressive girl is unmistakable. For example, a girl bully may roll her eyes, glare, ignore, turn away, point, or pass notes to a friend concerning the targeted or rejected girl.
Girls often feel pressured to be compliant and not show negative emotions. When they cannot assert their true feelings directly, resentment lingers and their anger manifests itself indirectly. Excessive relational aggressiveness can become a habit that can cause a lifetime of problematic relationships. Therefore, a girl who displays aggressive or bullying behaviors, verbal or nonverbal, needs adult intervention and guidance. Many girl bullies often have leadership ability, but they need assistance to channel it in a more positive direction.
Mean girls or girl bullies negatively impact the school environment and culture, and negatively impact themselves as well as their victims. Studies have shown that negatively aggressive or girl bullies are disliked more than most children their age. They tend to exhibit adjustment problems and display higher levels of loneliness and depression. Such girls often have difficulty creating and sustaining social and personal bonds. The targets of their bullying have adjustment difficulties, as well. The rejection and hurt the victims of mean girls or bullies feel can last throughout their entire lives. They are more likely than their classmates to be submissive, have low grades, drop out of school, engage in delinquent behavior, experience depression, and even think suicidal thoughts.
Child Psychologists and experts on the subject, such as Leah Davies, M.Ed., claim that educators and other school personnel can better combat the negative impact of such aggression on both the girl bullies and their targets by practicing the following strategies:
- Increase awareness among school staff so that they understand what relational aggression is and discuss ways to combat it. Consequences for relentless covert aggression will vary depending on school discipline procedures, the action, and the age of the girls. Consequences could include a referral to a counseling group or losing privileges.
- Observe children in the classroom, at lunch, in the hall, on the playground, and before and after school, noting students' nonverbal reactions to peers. Ask yourself:
- Who is alone on the playground?
- Who is a group leader?
- How do her followers act toward others?
- Discuss relational aggression with your students to make sure they know that starting rumors, ridiculing others, and other forms of covert aggression are not acceptable.
- Reinforce student social interaction skills through the use of role-playing exercises, literature, writing assignments, and other means. Emphasize considering the feelings of others, developing listening skills, and exhibiting other character traits that are critical to forming lasting friendships.
- Help girls understand that conflicts are a natural occurrence in friendships and provide them with an opportunity to practice being supportive of one another. Encourage them to honestly resolve problems through open discussion and compromise
- Believe the victim. Relational aggressive girls are skillful at concealing their bullying. Hence, many educators are blinded by the appearance of a model student who they feel would never engage in covert aggression.
- Understand that having at least one friend buffers a child from relationship aggression, so facilitating friendships between girls will help them cope with a relational aggressive child. Encourage girls to choose friends who are considerate and trustworthy, not exclusive or mean.
- Model respect and caring. Assist each girl in developing the belief that she is a capable person who has many strengths and who can stand up for herself by reinforcing these attitudes at every opportunity.
Find assistance for the victim and the bully. Contact a parent and/or work with staff to foster better social and emotional development.