What is Relational Aggression?
Acts of relational aggression are common among girls in American schools. These acts can include rumor spreading, secret-divulging, alliance-building, backstabbing, ignoring, excluding from social groups and activities, verbally insulting, and using hostile body language (i.e., eye-rolling and smirking). Other behaviors include making fun of someone's clothes or appearance and bumping into someone on purpose. Many of these behaviors are quite common in girls' friendships, but when they occur repeatedly to one particular victim, they constitute bullying.
Increasingly common is another form of harassment termed “cyber bullying”—using e-mail and websites to harm someone. Cyber bullies use personal websites and instant messaging to spread rumors about classmates over the Internet. Cyber bullies might also use classmates or “friend's” PIN numbers and pass codes to send embarrassing e-mails. Sometimes it is easier to engage in cyberbullying than more direct acts because the bully never faces the victim. This form of harassment is also very fast--an instant message posted at night may spread through an entire school before the first class period.
Occasionally bullying by girls occurs between relative strangers. A new girl moves into the neighborhood or a classroom and is met by some or all of the types of behaviors described above. Perhaps the bully feels threatened by or jealous of the new student. At other times, the victim may be part of a particular friendship group and the other group members suddenly or gradually turn on her. Girls often serve a certain role within a friendship group -- leader, follower, etc. If someone threatens the leader by suggesting ideas of her own or starts making overtures to another friendship group, the group may protest by making fun of her, ignoring her, and in general making her life miserable. It is this change – from good-natured teasing that indicates membership in a group to incessant negativity – that marks the line between a healthy relationship and a relationally aggressive one.
Relational aggression tends to be most intense and apparent among girls in fifth through eighth grade. This type of behavior often continues, although perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree, in high school. Although most common during the school day, relational aggression can occur in other settings such as the neighborhood or community activities.
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